Skip to main content

B.C. judge dismisses woman's claim to former Tofino commune property known as 'Poole's Land'

Tofino, B.C., is pictured. (Getty Images) Tofino, B.C., is pictured. (Getty Images)
Share

A British Columbia Supreme Court judge has tossed out a woman's claim to a portion of a property that was once home to an iconic, longstanding commune near Tofino.

Justice Robin Baird ruled the woman's seven-year delay in pursuing her claim for a piece of the 17.3-acre estate, colloquially known as "Poole's Land," was "inordinate and inexcusable," and made a fair hearing of the matter impossible.

Michael James Poole bought the rural property on Mackenzie Beach Road in October 1988 and established what his daughter described in court documents as a "self-sustaining commune" that would go on to house thousands of people over the years, some paying rent, others not.

Poole died after a long battle with cancer on June 16, 2020, just shy of his 69th birthday.

Sandra Gloria Varga, now 76 years old, met Poole in the spring of 2008 and says she maintained a marriage-like relationship with him until 2015.

POOLE HAD 'NO INTEREST IN TRADITION AND CONVENTION'

Various witnesses, including Poole's children, however, describe him as a "free spirit" who travelled often and pursued his own path in life, according to the judge's decision of July 17.

"The evidence suggests that he had no interest in tradition and convention, and that he was not monogamous in his relationships with women," Baird wrote.

Leah Austin, a close friend of Poole's, described him as a "lover" in an affidavit to the court.

"He loved the environment, he loved travelling, he loved his friends – and he loved women," Austin said. "Throughout the decades I knew Michael, I saw him with countless women, although none ever stayed around for long."

Laura Casey, a current resident on the property and longtime friend of Poole, told the court there were upwards of 30 people – often many more – living on the land at any given time from the 1990s through to the mid-2010s

"Many of these residents on [the property] were female, and I have watched Michael flirt and pursue these residents over multiple decades," she said.

'THE SHADOW'

Varga still maintains a presence on the property, but only rarely and usually late in the evening, prompting Casey and other rent-paying residents to refer to her as "the shadow," according to the court decision.

Poole's daughter Lilly Irena Woodbury provided evidence that Varga does not pay rent and does not contribute to the property's maintenance or operating costs.

Varga filed a notice of family claim on the land in February 2016. Poole filed a response to the claim the following May, denying that he had ever been in a marriage-like relationship with Varga.

"Since then, my overall opinion, expressed to counsel at the close of the hearing, is that far too little has happened over far too long," Baird wrote of Varga's claim.

"It may be that a dismissal for want of prosecution is an unusual remedy, but this is likely because, unlike this one, family law claims are usually pursued with a certain energy and determination. Litigants with legitimate claims usually get on with things within a reasonable time, which is precisely what this court expects and its rules of procedure require."

SETTLEMENT DISCUSSIONS ABANDONED

Poole and Varga attended a judicial case conference in early 2017 and settlement discussions were ongoing until May 2020, with no agreement reached before Poole's death and little discussion between Varga and his estate since.

"One of the hold-ups has been Ms. Varga's ongoing refusal to provide disclosure concerning the value of the Quebec property [she owns], to which Mr. Poole's estate would have a claim if the parties are determined to have been spouses," Baird wrote.

"In the end, she instructed her lawyer unilaterally to set a trial starting on May 8, 2023. She did so without providing this long-awaited disclosure. The trial was eventually adjourned by consent and re-scheduled to be heard starting on November 14, 2023 for 14 days."

Poole's daughter told the court the two-week trial would be necessary due to the vast number of witnesses she would call to testify that Varga was not Poole's spouse.

"I have read affidavits filed on this application from a number of these witnesses, all of whom knew Mr. Poole for many, many years before he died, and they say unanimously that monogamy and commitment in sexual relationships were not in his nature," the judge wrote.

"One witness attests that Ms. Varga was involved in a long-standing relationship with another man called Vlad Boralasik throughout the time she claims to have been a spouse to Mr. Poole," he added.

"Another witness deposes that she lived with Mr. Poole for a number of months during the same period of time, and that she never met Ms. Varga or heard Mr. Poole mention her name."

The judge contrasted that with Varga's proposal to call only two witnesses at trial, neither of whom would be able to give evidence about the value of her Quebec property.

Varga "has continued to assert a claim on the property without acting in any manner consistent with ownership," Baird wrote.

"I also accept Ms. Woodbury's argument that Ms. Varga's unwillingness to pursue her claim with anything like the expected alacrity has caused Mr. Poole’s estate significant and irremediable prejudice. She permitted her claim to lie fallow for years until the most important witness on the opposite side – Mr. Poole – succumbed to a terminal illness by which she knew very well he was afflicted."

'FAIR TRIAL IS NOT POSSIBLE'

Varga admitted to letting her claim lapse into a significant delay, but argued the delay didn't warrant dismissing her claim altogether.

"Her position is that Mr. Poole contributed to the problem by often being out of town, because he engaged Ms. Varga directly in settlement discussions without involving the lawyers on the case, and because, in 2022, the estate changed lawyers after previous counsel had given up conduct of the matter," Baird wrote.

Ultimately, the judge found Varga's "inordinate and inexcusable" delay in pursuing the land claim caused "serious prejudice" to Woodbury, as the representative of her father's estate.

"It has created a substantial risk that a fair trial is not possible," Baird wrote, awarding court costs to Woodbury.

"Ms. Varga has failed to establish that it would be unjust to terminate her claim. It is hereby ordered dismissed for want of prosecution."

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

NEW THIS MORNING

NEW THIS MORNING How to protect yourself from West Nile virus

It's been a hot, humid and wet summer so far in Ottawa, making it the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes and elevating the risk of West Nile virus.

Stay Connected