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'I lost but I made a point'
Court costs ruled excessive in lost appeal against housing authority

Cody Punter
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A pet owner is hoping her battle with the Yellowknife Housing Authority will inspire others facing similar situations to stand up for their rights.

Last summer Anne-Marie Giroux was faced with the possibility of paying back close to $10,000 in court fees after she lost an appeal against the housing authority in NWT Supreme Court.

Giroux had been living in public housing for 11 years until she was served an eviction notice for keeping cats in her apartment - something which is forbidden under the housing authority's policies - in the fall of 2013.

Giroux fought her eviction, and took her case all the way to the NWT Supreme Court because she believed that the housing authority's policy on pets discriminated against low-income families.

After she lost her case in July, Giroux was shocked to find out that the housing authority was seeking to reclaim a total $9,569 in court costs. Giroux told the court that costs were "absurd" and that she shouldn't have to pay the total amount because she couldn't afford it.

In her ruling, handed down on Nov. 11, 2014, Justice Louise Charbonneau argued awarding the full amount, which she called excessive, could have the effect of discouraging low-income people from accessing the court system in the future. As a result, she ordered Giroux to pay just $500 to the housing authority.

Although she ultimately lost her appeal, Giroux said felt vindicated that the judge recognized low-income people should have equal access to the court system.

"I lost but I made a point," she said. "If people in my situation go (to court) with the threat of having to pay court costs, (one of) two things happen: one, they either don't go, or two, they go in with a losing feeling - so they lose."

Giroux argued the fact that the housing authority was trying to reclaim all its costs went against its mandate of providing assistance to low-income families.

She also pointed out that the housing authority flew up lawyers from Edmonton to ensure they won the appeal, thereby increasing their costs.

Giroux, on the other hand, had to resort to representing herself.

"They thought they could get away with it because they're big and powerful," she said.

Cara Bryant, communications adviser for the NWT Housing Corporation, said the housing authority, which is the Yellowknife arm of the corporation, was simply presenting the courts what it cost to fight the appeal.

She said the decision to award a percentage of those cost was up to the judge's discretion.

"We did not request $9,500, those are our costs," she said. "The judge could have awarded us nothing, they could have awarded us everything. It's up to the courts to decide we are owed this much. It's not our place."

Since being evicted, Giroux has saved up enough money to move into market housing with her three children as well as her beloved cats.

Although she is glad the ordeal is over, she said she would do it all over again if she had to.

"I wouldn't want to go through it again but I would because of the principle," she said.

The authority has no intention of pursuing the matter further, said Bryant.

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