A judge has rejected Hawkesbury’s attempt to evict Le Chenail Cultural Centre from Maison de L’Ile in Hawkesbury, and has also found that the town council acted in bad faith.

The town’s notice of eviction, sent in April of 2016, didn’t specify how Le Chenail had violated its lease with the town, Judge Paul Kane decided.

Reached on Monday, Lynda Clouette-Mackay, artistic director of Le Chenail, said the cultural centre will remain in Maison de L’Ile. “We’re happy,” she said. “We want to continue our mandate.” She said she could not yet comment on the status of a $150,000 Trillium grant which was put at risk by the court proceedings. On Friday, November 11, the day the decision was released, Le Chenail sent out an email inviting its supporters to celebrate the “victory” at Maison de L’Ile.

A statement published Tuesday morning by the office of Hawkesbury Mayor Jeanne Charlebois says town council is “disappointed” with the judge’s decision, and “more disappointed” that he found the town acted in bad faith. The statement denies that the town acted in bad faith, saying council was convinced it was acting according to the lease and the law. It adds that the town intends to continue discussions with Le Chenail about installing a tourist information centre at Maison de L’Ile.

Conflict began in 2015

The conflict between the town and its tenants began in July of 2015, when the town sent a notice to Le Chenail saying it would be limiting the cultural centre to the second floor of the building. That’s allowed in the lease, as long as Le Chenail is given six months’ notice. However, the July 1 notice also said while the town would take over the first floor of the building, Le Chenail could use the first floor if a “formal request” was made. In his decision, Judge Kane calls this notice “contradictory and uncertain.” The notice, he writes, indicates that the town won’t need the entire first floor of the building, which “raises the question of the town’s motivation” in taking over the entire first floor. “The town knew that (the notice sent on July 1) created complete uncertainty for Le Chenail regarding its status as a tenant of the first floor,” says the decision.

About a month later, on July 16, town council decided to write a letter of agreement which would indicate specifically how much space would be needed for the tourist information centre it wanted to put on the first floor of the Maison de L’Ile. Kane writes that they should have done that earlier: “if the town was acting in good faith, it would have proceeded with measuring before sending the first notice,” he writes.

A second notice was sent to Le Chenail on August 10. In it, Mayor Jeanne Charlebois wrote that the town had no intention of renegotiating the lease. It also says that the town did not intend to limit the activities of Le Chenail to the second floor, and that representatives of the town would be by to measure the exact space the town would need. This contradicts the first notice sent in July, says Kane: unlike in the first notice, there’s no indication that Le Chenail would be limited to the second floor and there’s no mention of a need for a “formal request.”

Then, in February of 2016, the town prepared a new contract. The new contract asks Le Chenail to consent to the town using part of the first floor. That contract also, according to Kane’s judgement, says that the town would “enumerate the supplementary terms and conditions” that Le Chenail would have to follow in order to be allowed to continue using the rest of the first floor.

The new contract meant Le Chenail now wouldn’t have the right to six months’ notice of eviction from the rest of the first floor. “The town used its power to exclude from the lease the first floor, three-quarters of which it didn’t need, having a negative effect on Le Chenail, in order to eliminate its obligation under paragraph one of the lease to provide six months’ notice for all reductions of space regarding the remaining three quarters of the first floor,” writes Kane. “This demonstrates a lack of good faith on the part of the town.”

Hawkesbury councillor Daniel Lalonde attempted to deliver this new contract to Le Chenail, but Paula Assaly and Lynda Clouette-Mackay didn’t accept it, and he left without leaving a copy with them.

Finally, in April of 2016, the town issued a notice of eviction to the cultural centre. The judge decided that this notice doesn’t specify how Le Chenail violated the lease, and therefore isn’t valid. The eviction notice was also in bad faith, writes Kane: the April 1 notice gave Le Chenail until April 29 to fix “non-specified” violations of the lease, but the town’s lawyers began the court process to evict the cultural centre on April 15.

Below is the press release issued by the Hawkesbury mayor’s office on November 15: