The state of turmoil and conflict at the Chilliwack Airport heaves on with at least one tenant leaving and, now, a defamation lawsuit from the management company that runs the embattled pitstop for pilots.
Magnum Management, owner Bryan Kirkness and airport manager Garry Atkins filed suit in BC Supreme Court against the Chilliwack Airport Tenants Association (CATA), the Chilliwack Airport Coffee Shop, it's owners and various other tenants of the airport.
Atkins told the Times Tuesday the suit was launched because they have been "unfairly maligned" and CATA has spread misinformation they see as harmful.
"Further to the defamatory statements being published, this group has lowered themselves to include personal attacks in a misdirected attempt to further their position," Atkins said via email.
As part of the current and ongoing conflict with Kirkness since he took over Magnum Oct. 1, 2013, members of CATA created a website, SaveYCW.com, they say as a way to express concerns about the airport.
The claim filed in Vancouver court on Aug. 23 seeks unspecified damages. Atkins added that any dollar amount is best left for the courts to decide, and that the suit is about halting what is in effect "a campaign of cyber bullying."
As of this week, the SaveYCW website hosts only a message on a home page saying that the site was created to express concerns about incidents at the airport: "We have now been sued because of certain content on the site. While we believe our concerns are valid, and will vigorously defend the claims, we have decided to remove content from the website."
Issues between a number of the tenants of the airport and Magnum have been ongoing and the source of tension since 2013.
Some tenants formed CATA and claimed that $25 million worth of business was under threat from Magnum actions that have been disruptive to operations. In its defamation lawsuit, Magnum responds that CATA represents just seven of the 97 tenants at the airport. Kirkness has said he is just trying to bring the airport into compliance with Transport Canada regulations, something that was lacking before he took over.
One of the specific allegations of defamation in the suit point to a "publication" posted on the SaveYCW website about a supposed illegal rent hike. In it, AJ Pumps co-owner John Van Esch said they were asked to pay an immediate rent increase of 50 percent, told if they didn't it would be backdated to 2003.
The "publication" which also was issued as a May 12 press release said others faced similar hikes.
"Years after our lease renewed we’ve been told to pay the increase or get out,” said Upper Valley Aviation founder Ken Smith. “Magnum has since threatened us with lawsuits and costly mediation procedures in attempts to bully us into agreeing to these increases."
In the civil claim, Magnum responds that no other tenant received "a notice, demand, or eviction notice since the Plaintiff, Bryan Kirkness, assumed primary ownership of Magnum Management," therefore the claim there were threats of improper rent increases or evictions is defamatory.
The whole conflict prompted the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) to send a letter on Sept. 10 sent to Mayor Sharon Gaetz asking for her to intervene at the City of Chilliwack owned airport.
"We feel that the atmosphere reported at the airport between members of the Chilliwack Airport Tenants Association (CATA) and the airport management team is counter productive, annihilates any possible growth and impacts sustainability, thus going against our mission of advancing and promoting the Canadian freedom to fly," COPA president and CEO Bernard Gervais wrote. "We are witnessing this right now, where businesses are in the process of leaving the airport."
But Gaetz and city hall have repeatedly stated the dispute is one between tenants and the landlord, who has a 50-year lease that was signed in 1997.
Atikins said they were "perplexed" at Gervais writing "such a negative piece of communication" and copying it to others without first speaking to Magnum.
In a response letter issued Sept. 15, Kirkness writes that COPA's message is based on false information about the airport spread by CATA.
Most recently, Mitchell Nosko, owner of flight school Principal Air, announced on Sept. 24 that after 12 years the business was leaving the Chilliwack Airport, moving operations to the Abbotsford Airport.
Nosko, who is named in the defamation suit, said that Magnum refused to give the company a new lease two years ago so they were operating month by month. On Aug. 30, Nosko received the eviction notice, tried to move into another compound but were told by city hall to move the business licence they needed permission from Magnum, something that was refused.
"This left us with no other possible solutions in Chilliwack," he said, since the business needs roadside and airside access to operate.
Atkins told the Times that there has been a difference of opinion between Magnum and Principal Air since the new ownership in 2013, and there have been numerous instances of the company not following rules and requests from management.