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Vancouver lawyer suspended after accusations of pseudolegal ‘paper terrorism’ over neighbour’s deck

A Vancouver lawyer accused of filing a groundless pseudolegal lawsuit against her neighbour over a glass deck divider has been banned from practising law in British Columbia while the province’s law society investigates a complaint.

Naomi Arbabi was temporarily suspended on Dec. 28 after an interim action board of the Law Society of B.C. “determined that extraordinary action was necessary to protect the public,” according to an email sent to CBC News on Tuesday.

“The suspension will last until the order is rescinded or varied,” the email read.

An interim action board, which is set up by the Law Society president, consists of three or more lawyers who may be appointed to investigate complaints against one of the society’s members.

The temporary ban is the latest development in a legal back-and-forth between Arbabi and her neighbour, Colleen McLelland, which began with accusations of trespassing on roof space and developed into what McLelland describes as a fight based on debunked, pseudolegal arguments.

In her lawsuit last October, Arbabi accused McLelland of trespassing by installing a privacy divider on her rooftop deck at their condo building in Vancouver’s Fairview neighbourhood.

Arbabi identified herself in the claim as “i, a woman” and said the case would be tried in the “naomi arbabi court.”

As part of her lawsuit, Arbabi said her claim was “based on law of the land, and not a complaint based on legal codes acts or statutes” and asked for compensation equal to $1,000 a day for every day the glass divider has been in place.

In November, McLelland went to B.C. Supreme Court to ask that Arbabi’s lawsuit be thrown out on the grounds that it was “scandalous, frivolous or vexatious.” McLelland also called on the court to refer a complaint against Arbabi to the Law Society.

The society did not comment further on the details of its investigation in its email Tuesday.

McLelland argued the lawsuit is a clear example of what Canadian courts have termed an organized pseudolegal commercial argument (OPCA) — a thoroughly debunked and wholly unsuccessful class of legal theory favoured by fringe groups like Sovereign Citizens and Freemen on the Land.

“In dealing with Ms. Arbabi’s notice and claim, I truly feel a victim of paper terrorism and believe the public needs to be protected from such litigation tactics,” McLelland said during her November appearance in B.C. Supreme Court.

Master Susanna Hughes has not yet released her decision on McLelland’s application. 

Lawyer says courts misunderstand ‘natural law’

In her submissions to the court, Arbabi denied any association with organized pseudolegal groups, but told the court, “I do think that our legal system has a lot of flaws.”

She argued that she was appearing in court as “a living, breathing, alive woman,” not a lawyer, and said she would refer to herself using a lowercase “i.”

“That i possess a licence to practice law in the legal jurisdiction of the province of British Columbia does not make i into a lawyer, the same way that having a driver’s licence to drive a motor vehicle does not make i into a driver,” Arbabi said.

The code of conduct for lawyers in B.C. requires them to encourage respect for the justice system, and says they should not weaken public confidence in legal institutions though irresponsible claims.

An image taken from the street view feature on Google Maps shows a low-rise beige condo building.
Arbabi and McLelland are neighbours in this condo building on Vancouver’s West Side. (Google Maps)

For her part, Arbabi claimed that Canadian judges who have ruled on OPCA litigants don’t really grasp the concepts of “natural law” and “trespass” that she bases her lawsuit on.

“Many courts, including the claimant, have trouble understanding what is often referred to as natural law. … Natural law — or as i call it, just law — is that which is so obvious that it is not required to be written down into an act or statute,” Arbabi said.

She went on to say that “a trespass occurs when a man or a woman knowingly does the wrong deed … not by accident, not by ignorance, but with intention and without authority and does not provide remedy or lawful excuse.”

Arbabi alleged that trespass “bestows one a dishonourable status which i do not wish upon anyone,” and said she filed the lawsuit to give McLelland a chance to clear her name.

McLelland has argued that her strata was responsible for installing the divider after the previous one was removed without permission by another owner, and said B.C. law only allows lawsuits to be filed by or against strata corporations, not between individual owners.

Arbabi has denied that her claim has anything to do with the building’s strata corporation, which she said has “no standing, legally or lawfully.” 

Arbabi said her case is based rather on an argument of proprietary estoppel, a legal concept based in English common law that protects people who have been negatively affected after relying on assurances related to land.

She told the court there was no deck divider when she purchased her condo, and its installation has ruined her home’s “crown jewel” — its view of the North Shore mountains.

In November, Arbabi agreed to meet with a CBC reporter to discuss her lawsuit, but upon arrival, declined to answer any questions. Instead, she read out a notice warning of consequences if a story were to be published without her consent.

“As such harm is a very grievous trespass, i, shall claim remedy in the amount of $500,000 for such trespass plus $5,000 a day for as long as the trespass continues,” the notice read.

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