A couple from Musquodoboit Harbour, N.S., have been sentenced to jail for a property dispute with their neighbours that a judge summarized as "vulgar, stupid, and childish behaviour that led to unhinged ranting, online bullying and misogynistic harassment."
Sandra (Gwen) Williams and Howard Merrette were convicted of assault, assault with a weapon, mischief and multiple counts of criminal harassment following a lengthy jury trial in November 2019. They were sentenced by Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Jamie Campbell earlier this month.
Merrette and Williams live along Scots Lake Road. The dispute started in 2010 when one of their neighbours sent Williams a lawyer's letter saying that a parking pad she had constructed was actually on the neighbour's property.
Williams and Merrette had recently married and, as Campbell noted in his decision, Merrette took exception to the letter.
"Mr. Merrette's level of aggression online and in person and the unrelenting nature of it, made life miserable for the people who lived on Scots Lake Road," Campbell wrote in a decision released Tuesday.
"He was not merely a cranky and unfriendly man. He acted as an aggressive bully who was physically intimidating."
Insults and obscenities
Court heard how Merrette would scream insults and obscenities at neighbours as they walked along Scots Lake Road. Some of those confrontations were physical.
For her part, Williams would post videos on Facebook that were intended to embarrass and annoy the neighbours. The judge found Williams enabled Merrette's bullying behaviour, making her a bully as well.
The jury trial was unusual. Williams and Merrette represented themselves. They felt the fact the Crown and judge were wearing robes put them at a disadvantage, so the pair showed up for court wearing black choir gowns.
Campbell noted that Merrette referred to himself in the third person as "Mr. Merrette," which the judge said appeared to confuse some witnesses.
At one point, Merrette threatened to leave the courtroom and turned his back on the judge. When he refused to turn around, Campbell had him sent to cells in the basement of the courthouse for an hour until he apologized. Shortly after that, Merrette scuffled with sheriff's deputies.
But, as the judge noted, "They are not being sentenced for their eccentric or idiosyncratic behaviour. They are being sentenced for their criminal acts."
He handed Williams a one-month jail term, followed by three years of probation and 100 hours of community service. Merrette was sentenced to nine months in jail, followed by three years of probation.
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