OTTAWA — It’s not the kind of case you expect to be decided in Canada’s highest court, but the Supreme Court has found in favour of a woman who essentially argued possession is nine-tenths of the law.
A Quebec woman, Hélène Allie, has been awarded property rights over a parking spot she used for 17 years following a years-long court battle that ended at the top court.
The judgment only affects the law in Quebec because it hinges on the province’s civil code.
Under the Quebec Civil Code, one can declare property rights after possessing something for 10 years in a peaceful, continuous, public and unequivocal way.
Allie said she used two parking spots on her neighbour’s property from 1994 to 2011, when the neighbour sold the property to Alain Ostiguy and Valérie Savard. Ostiguy and Savard sought an injunction to stop her from using the spots, and the case wound its way through the court system as Allie asserted her possession rights. The question for the court was whether the official property registration by Ostiguy and Savard outweighed Allie’s squatter’s rights, and whether Allie needed to have obtained a judgment confirming her ownership.
The courts awarded Allie one spot rather than two because of lack of evidence for the second spot.
Ostiguy and Savard’s only option now may be pursuing a lawsuit against the property’s previous owner. Justice Clément Gascon, writing the majority decision, noted the “acquisitive prescription” property right denies them a portion of the right of ownership they thought they were getting when they bought the property.
“It is possible for them to claim the corresponding loss from their predecessors in title if they can prove that the latter were aware of the respondent’s encroachment before the sale and failed to disclose it to them,” Gascon wrote.
“This personal action is of course not a perfect substitute for the desired right of ownership.”