|Thanks to the outright refusal of the London Free Press to report on a lawsuit that was largely precipitated due to its own role in helping Susan Eagle campaign against London landlord Elijah Elieff, Scene magazine, London's news, arts and entertainment publication, was able to claim an exclusive story below. To this day, the London Free Press has yet to report anything about Elieff's lawsuit, in sharp contrast to the multitude of articles the paper printed about Eagle's campaign against Elieff.|
By Robert Metz
A $1.3-MILLION LAWSUIT has been filed by former Cheyenne Ave. apartments landlord Elijah Elieff in an effort to receive compensation for losses Elieff alleges he suffered as a result of an organized campaign waged against him from the mid-'80s to mid-'90s.
Mr. Elieff's statement of claim filed on Sept. 16, 1998 in Ontario Court (General Division) names Rev. Susan Eagle, the United Church of Canada, Neighbourhood Legal Services Inc. and the National Bank of Canada as co-defendants in the $1.3-million claim seeking: damages for conspiracy, abuse of process, intentional interference with contractual relations, inducing breach of contract and unlawful interference with economic interests.
Additionally, Elieff is seeking damages for the improvident sale of his two apartment buildings at 95 and 105 Cheyenne Ave. (now named Oakville Ave.) by the National Bank of Canada and also wants an accounting of the rent money collected from his tenants by the other defendants during their alleged campaign to gain control of his buildings.
Elieff claims his financial losses stem from the activities of Susan Eagle (now an elected member of city council representing Ward Seven), who, as a paid lobbyist for the United Church of Canada during the mid-'80s and early-'90s, allegedly launched a legal, political and public lobby effort to convert his privately-owned Cheyenne Ave. apartment buildings in northeast London, into taxpayer-funded co-op housing.
Although not successful in getting control of the apartment buildings, Ms. Eagle's activities were successful in wresting control of the buildings from Mr. Elieff when his two apartment buildings and his Richmond Subs sandwich shop in downtown London, were lost under power of sale.
Eagle and her co-defendants deny Elieff's allegations of impropriety. In their Feb. 1, 1999 statement of defence, they state their actions were justifiable because the "Cheyenne buildings were in a general state of disrepair." The defendants also deny encouraging Ellieff's tenants to leave his apartment buildings and deny "encouraging tenants to vandalize the Cheyenne buildings, or encouraging tenants to commence groundless legal proceedings..."
According to the human rights' board of inquiry testimony in 1993 of then Cheyenne tenant Marie Mowat: "Susan Eagle came knocking on our doors in the summer telling us to go to the next tenants' association meeting and she [would] be telling us how we can use our rent money to build a new co-op building. I [asked] her how can the landlord make repairs and pay bills without our rent and I asked her who hired her? She said, 'My church hired me to do this work...' "
Elieff alleges Rev. Eagle also recruited one of his Asian tenants (Ms. Chippeng Hom) to file an Ontario human rights' complaint of racism against him after London Free Press reporter Greg Van Moorsel reported his now infamous 'little pigs' news story of November 8, 1989, wherein Elieff was reported to have referred to his tenants as living like pigs out of the jungle. Elieff, however, denies this and claims that the on-going damage done to his properties was caused by some of his tenants, the majority of whom were of Asian origin.
Elieff was exonerated of the racism complaint when an Ontario human rights' board of inquiry ruled in August, 1994, that no one "produced a witness who suggested that non-Asian tenants were given more favourable treatment than Asian tenants."
APPEAL: A subsequent appeal to Divisional Court by the Ontario Human Rights Commission resulted in Elieff being found guilty in 1996 of "discriminating against Cambodians" despite the fact that the majority of his tenants were Cambodian and Vietnamese. The Macedonia-born Elieff, with a limited command of English and little understanding of the involved legal issues, defended himself during the appeal in Divisional Court.
"Shame on us!" wrote London developer Peter Sergautis in a February, 1995 column forwarded to the Blackburn-owned The London Free Press, one they refused to publish. As the new owner of the Cheyenne Ave. apartments, Mr. Sergautis began supporting former owner Elieff and alleges he also became the target of Ms. Eagle's campaign to gain control of the apartment buildings.
"We watched this public financial execution with morbid curiosity,"' wrote Sergautis, "for after all, he was the 'bad guy.' Even worse, a 'bad landlord' and deserved all he got. But did he? What heinous crimes did he commit? Or was his crime just that he couldn't keep up with the attack on every legal front?..."
According to Rev. Eagle's Nov. 16, 1992 testimony before the human rights' board of inquiry, "Neighhourhood Legal Services was asked to act on behalf of five tenants in the buildings to take action under the Landlord and Tenant Act to get repairs done. At that time they had the tenants pay their rent into a fund rather than paying to Mr. Elieff. That was done through Neighbourhood Legal Services." Ms. Eagle's testimony on Nov. 27, 1992 revealed, "Certainly my job is to push people to be aggressive in dealing with an injustice. I believe that, contrary to what Mr. Elieff says, that I am making the tenants aggressive."
Saddled with the reputation as a racist former slum landlord due to the number of repetitive, specious and inaccurate editorials and news articles published in The London Free Press in the early-'90s, Mr. Elieff is now seeking help from the London and area community to help fund his legal battle, now in the discovery stage. His legal expenses may well exceed $50,000 and the case could take years to resolve. However, Mr. Elieff is receiving help from a growing number of supporters after they hear the complete details of his ordeal.
No one from the mainstream media attended the Oct. 23 fundraising dinner for Mr. Elieff's legal expenses at the Seven Dwarfs Restaurant, sponsored by the Freedom Party of Ontario. A media release issued on Oct. 21 announced not only the event, but also the details about Elieff's lawsuit. (A second fundraising dinner is set for Sat. Nov. 6 at the Six Points Plaza in Toronto, sponsored by the Voices of Canadians Committee. For reservations, call 416-766-0895.)
Despite Mr. Elieff's notoriety generated by the local media during Ms. Eagle's campaign, it appears that when Elieff seeks redress to the courts, previously unbalanced coverage is now being abandoned in favour of media silence about the court action. Londoners may never learn the truth about Elieff's story from London's mainstream media. But if Elijah Elieff ever hopes to garner more public support, it's the untold story of his ordeal that Londoners need to discover.
On the advice of legal counsel Tony Steele of Polishuk, Camman & Steele, Mr. Elieff has recently declined an out-of-court settlement offered by the co-defendant, The National Bank of Canada.
Chronology of Events:
July 1984: 95 and 105 Cheyenne Ave. apartment buildings purchased by Elijah Elieff.
1984: Susan Eagle is hired by 4 United Churches to work on "community development projects."
1985: Mr. Elieff's buildings are designated by the churches for "community development."
1986-87: Ms. Eagle organizes tenants' association in Elieff's buildings. They consider buying the buildings; tenants' association opts instead to build a 75-unit co-op, known as the Genesis Co-op.
1987-88: Eagle and the tenants' association help to relocate many of Elieff's tenants into the Genesis Co-op housing project. Elieff rents his apartments to an increasing number of Asian tenants who eventually comprise a majority in his two buildings.
Nov. 8, 1989: The London Free Press publishes the now infamous 'little pigs' news article by reporter Greg Van Moorsel.
Nov. 9 - Dec. 20, 1989: Ms. Eagle and others work to find an Asian tenant willing to file a racism complaint against Mr. Elieff.
Dec. 20, 1989: Ms. Chippeng Hom, one of Elieff's Cambodian tenants, files a racism complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Feb. 1993: Freedom Party president Robert Metz (not a lawyer) volunteers to represent Elieff before the board of inquiry on its third day of proceedings.
June 1993: Elieff loses his two apartment buildings under power of sale.
Aug. 24, 1994: Board of Inquiry rules no evidence supporting racism complaint. Human Rights Commission subsequently appeals.
Dec. 4, 1996: Divisional Court rules that media coverage "as reported by Mr. Van Moorsel in The London Free Press created a poisoned environment." Elieff still found guilty of discrimination, "even though all other tenants who were not Cambodians were subject to the same conditions."
Sept. 16, 1998: Elieff launches a $1.3-million lawsuit in Ontario Court (General Division).
Robert Metz is president of the Freedom Party of Ontario and can be heard on 1290 CJBK AM Radio's Left, Right & Center show which airs during Jim Chapman's Talk of the Town, Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 12 noon.
How to Donate:
To contribute to Elijah Elieff's legal expenses, send cheques or money orders payable to: Cheyenne Court Challenge, Box 2214, London ON N6A 4E3. Credit card and cash donations can be facilitated through the Freedom Party at 681-3999. For more info. visit www.freedomparty.org/xcheyenn.htm
last updated on April 28, 2002