Forty-nine people are being sued for millions of dollars to compensate Gem Equities developer Andrew Marquess for the damages he says he suffered during a two-month protest and blockade of the Parker Lands.
Kevin Toyne, Marquess's lawyer, said he will ask to the court to add 44 additional defendants to the lawsuit launched in July, which seeks to recover legal fees, security expenses and the costs associated with the project's delay.
Toyne said it is tough to quantify the total amount at this point.
"We could be looking at damages in the millions or tens of millions of dollars," he said.
The amount could vary based on whether a court decides the protesters impeded the development of the residential units planned for the area, Toyne said.
Blockade organizers are turning to the public to help fund their legal defence. They hope to raise $15,000 for the first year of the legal battle, which could last as long as five years and cost as much as $100,000.
"We want to fight this because we firmly believe that the blockade was the right thing to do," said Mitchell van Ineveld, who helped organize the protest and is now named in the lawsuit. "Blockading unjust development is a legitimate thing for one to do in Canada."
Protesters occupied the Parker Lands from mid-July to mid-September in an attempt to halt the clearing of the aspen forest on the property. They believe the area has historical and cultural significance to Métis and Indigenous communities.
What protesters called the Rooster Town blockade was shut down by Court of Queen's Bench Justice James Edmond, who ordered them to leave on Sept. 14.
"[The lawsuit] is meant to send a message to activists that blockades are not a legitimate form of dissent," van Ineveld said. "They will try to screw up your life if you mess with the rights of a private property developer."
Marquess's lawyer said the suit is not about the exercise of free speech.
"There is absolutely no chilling effect at all. The people who are being sued were engaged in activity the plaintiff and the courts have said is unlawful," Toyne said.
The next hearing in the case is on Oct. 31.