Events of August 29, 2013 on River Street in Gananoque, Ontario:
Titanic Survivor's grandson John Higgins viciously attacked by a crowbar on her own property which left the already disabled man with further physical and mental trauma.
The Property Prior to the Confrontation:
395 River Street in Gananoque, Ontario is a beautiful piece of land on the west side of the Gananoque River. It has been in Mary Higgins' family for 175 years. Mary has lived there her entire life and she was 85 at the time of this travesty. Mary's mother was a Titanic survivor who has been featured in books, on the radio, and on television. 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and the CBC show
did a taping at this house for the event.
The property boasted several well tended gardens and ponds, as well as an aviary which housed several rare birds shipped from the west coast. Mary's son John is a recognized artist known for his taxidermy-style art. This art has been featured in many shows and a piece that took "best in show" in one contest is featured on the grounds. His artwork can be found in various parks throughout Canada and can even be seen on display in the Canadian Tire store on Division Street in Kingston, Ontario.
A vinyl fence stretched across the south side of the property until a neighbour, Paul LaFirst, tore it down on May 25, 2012. When Paul, who doesn't even own the property, began to accumulate refuse along the property line, a six-foot privacy fence was erected along about 75 feet of the property. Paul erroneously believed that both fences were on his side of the property line which lead to the confrontation and subsequent assault. Police would never charge Paul, or any of the others involved, with trespassing on the Higgins property, but John Higgins would be charged for trespassing on the property belonging to his own mother.
The Willful Destruction on the Property:
Due to a survey sketch, (not even a legal survey), Paul LaFirst believed that Mary's vinyl chain-link fence and later the six-foot privacy fence were on the property he lived on. This less-than-a-foot difference prompted Paul to remove the vinyl fence on May 25, 2012 and, later, the privacy fence on August 29, 2013. He did not contact Mary about his intentions, but had contacted the Gananoque Police who told him to go ahead - the police did not contact Mary either, or even look up documents filed with the police concerning the legal survey of the land.
The vinyl fence ran along the south boundary of Mary's property. She was unaware that the fence was being removed until her son John arrived home and noticed that most of it had been taken down. An officer with the Gananoque Police, Joeyl Harding, spent well over an hour watching the removal of the fence, which he knew belonged to Mary, but provided no notification or service of documents to Mary. The discarded fencing was rolled up and left on the property belonging to Stuart LaFirst. After a week, it was gone - presumed stolen.
On August 29, 2013, Paul gathered a number of other neighbours for the express purpose of taking down the six-foot privacy fence along the south side of Mary's property. This was a well-planned event - those neighbours must have known for several days that this was going to happen. If Mary hadn't happened to be looking out of a south-facing window when the small red truck belonging to another neighbour, Bud Wooding, arrived, she would not have known what was about to happen. The mob gathered and began knocking down the wooden fence. Throughout the day, during the removal, this mob trespassed on Mary's property. When the boards near the aviary were removed, the noise was so loud and aggressive that it scared some of the birds to death (yes, actually killing them). Another bird house close to the fence was also disturbed. The lumber from the fence was left in piles along the area where it was removed. What was left of the privacy fence needed to be held up with wooden braces.
Destruction of Mary Higgins' Property Images
The Confrontation and the Assault:
After Mary saw the truck from her window, she called to her son John, who was downstairs in the living room, to go and check the property by the water. Paul and his mob were gathered near the fence at the waterfront. When John asked Paul what he was doing to his mother's fence, the reply was simply to "f* off." John put his hand near where the first of the fence boards had been removed, but Paul continued his destruction with the next board and hit John's index finger on his right hand with a drill - an injury that still hurts to this day. Even after this initial assault, Paul continued to remove boards - he didn't care that he had just assaulted John.
When John indicated that he would call the police, Joanne Montgomery, who was in this mob, told him to not bother since the police had known that this confrontation would take place for two weeks. John called anyway. It took the police half an hour to arrive on the scene and would not charge any of Paul's mob with trespassing even though they were quite obviously on Mary's property. Nothing would come of the assaults either – which included aggressive behaviour with a power drill, a roto-saw, and finally a crowbar.
In order for Paul to remove the fence footings, he needed to be on Mary's property. When John told Paul not to trespass, he again got another "f* off" response. With crowbar in hand, Paul swung as hard as he could, striking John in the upper thigh of the left leg and his lower back. This caused considerable pain and left a very visible mark. This assault, the third of the day, has caused long-term damage for which John needs to take medication for the ongoing pain. The swelling and abrasions were visible for weeks afterwards.
During the assaults, Paul's mob watched on - some even capturing the confrontation on their cellphones. At one point, Paul was so angry at John that Paul's wife, Virginia, had to hold him back from escalating the assault further. Paul was aggressive and visibly angry. He had no remorse for the damage he was doing or the harm he was causing. To this day, Mary is so frightened of Paul that she will no longer venture to the waterfront portion of her own property to tend to a garden she had previously maintained regularly.
Probably the saddest part of this altercation was the innocent victims in the aviary and bird houses. Several were so stressed from what was going on that they died from fright. Some of these birds were rare ones that cost a sizable amount of money to replace - money that Paul refused to pay.
It is a crying shame that this mob got away with bullying John and his mother Mary. John has suffered physical, mental, and emotional anguish directly attributed to this confrontation. Mary no longer feels secure in her own home on her own property. The fact that this mob was composed of neighbours from nearby just adds to the insecurity that the entire family has been dealing with every day since August 29, 2013.
Confrontation and Assault Images
Police and Legal Response:
Documents were sent to the Gananoque Police Services in 2006 by the Higgins' lawyer, Mr. Macintosh, regarding the settlement of the property dispute which started in 1994. The lawyer filed a statutory declaration that was registered with police. The Chief of Police failed to look up any of this information for either the 2012 incident or the 2013 incident. In fact, no contact was made by any officers, even those present during the destruction of the fences, with Mary or her family. Procedures were not followed, documents were not checked, and justice was certainly not served.
Throughout this confrontation, the Gananoque Police had apparently taken Paul's side. Neither Paul LaFirst nor any member of Paul's mob was ever charged with trespassing in either 2012 or 2013. They would, however, charge John with trespassing on Paul's property in 2014 when John was putting up tape to keep the geese off his mother's property and needed to step over the property line to do so. Assault charges were never laid against Paul for any of the physical, mental, or emotional damage caused on August 29, 2013.
John took Paul to court for compensation for damages and losses, but Paul conveniently declared bankruptcy before he paid anything. It took until January 17, 2017 before John could even get a restraining order against the LaFirsts.
Documents filed in the courts proved that the land belonged to Mary the whole time. Paul and his mob were in the wrong right from the start.
Although we cannot fix what has happened, we can certainly let people know about this kind of bullying. This confrontation besmirches the reputation of the beautiful town of Gananoque, Ontario. Please share this on social media using the buttons above or by copying the url below.
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