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Ian Mulgrew: Legal costs dwarf police misconduct award

Those old enough will remember the Whalley Strip’s infamous Dell Hotel — a violent, unruly dump the cops frequently attended, but only in pairs, at a minimum.

Once, Michael Kwok Shuen Fong hoped to turn it into a gold mine, but his incompetence, mental health and animosity toward police produced only a tragedy.

The final chapter of his sad Surrey saga may have been written by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Murray Blok in a sympathetic costs decision that ended 13 years of litigation over an altercation with RCMP officers.

Surprisingly, the justice gave Fong twice as much to cover his costs for mounting the legal fight as he did for the minor injuries he suffered.

Blok awarded Fong only $71,000 in damages for the “hard takedown” by the Mounties, which left him dazed and bleeding, and for his brief unlawful arrest.

He had been seeking $1.3 million for near-complete disability!

The trial lasted 18 days and Fong wanted another roughly $170,000 for his costs — $69,000 in tariff items and $100,000 in disbursements.

The B.C. justice ministry, which offered to settle for $25,000, asked Blok to reduce the bill because much of the money spent on experts turned out to be wasted.

None of the evidence from the five medical specialists was accepted, the government argued because Fong misled them, and an economist’s report was disregarded.

Also, Fong claimed police beat him with a baton while repeatedly shouting racist and homophobic slurs — none of which proved true.

“Although I found that Mr. Fong was not a credible witness, I do not conclude he was lying to the court,” Blok explained. “I also do not conclude that Mr. Fong’s failure to tell physicians and experts about other negative events in his life was a deliberate scheme on his part to enhance his personal injury claim or that he displayed ‘a light regard for the truth.’”

Fong attributed all of his subsequent misery to the March 11, 2006 dust-up. However, Blok concluded several setbacks in his life triggered an “existential problem” that “altered his perception of his work identity.”

“These problems would have occurred even if the police incident had not taken place,” Blok decided.

The justice recited the events that dogged Fong after his bloody encounter with police — he lost his hotel management job, developed a crack cocaine habit, squandered $800,000 of his family’s money in a bad investment, and descended into depression.

Now in his 60s, Blok recounted, Fong worked in real estate from 1986 to 1999 before losing that job.

From 1999 to 2002, he managed the Byrd Pub in the Flamingo Hotel, then moved to the Dell.

In July 2005, Fong’s extended family partnered with another man and bought the business. Fong was not a shareholder, but had powers of attorney from his parents and controlled their 49 per cent.

The Dell was rechristened the Oasis Hotel and Fong became general manager.

He accelerated its nose-dive.

Although he disputed it, Fong appeared to bear a grudge against the RCMP because of the way it handled an investigation into $90,000 of missing cash and liquor while he was at the Byrd Pub.

In February 2006, the animosity erupted at a Chinese New Year party for about 20 of his employees and spouses.

Four officers arrived and wanted to know why so many people were still drinking after hours?

A seriously impaired Fong allegedly told them to either “give me a ticket or you f— off out of here. Happy Chinese New Year.”

His friends restrained him.

A month later, several officers arrived at the Oasis to confront a boisterous drunken crowd and demanded to see the hotel’s liquor licence.

During the visit, Fong was manhandled, knocked to the ground, and ended up bruised and bleeding. He was briefly handcuffed.

Several months later, in October, the hotel was shut for health and safety violations because of Fong’s “manifest incompetence.”

He was fired and the hotel sold in late 2006 or early 2007, Blok said.

Fong found a low-level job as a doorman at a Chilliwack hotel, but soon lost it due to his addiction and personal collapse.

In 2009, he was granted WCB benefits for a left shoulder injury and depression, and accepted for a CPP disability pension.

Unfortunately, the following year, Fong squandered $800,000 of his family’s money.

In March 2015, after a court rejected his suit over the investment loss, Fong attempted suicide.

He worked part-time briefly in 2017 and thought about returning to the hospitality industry, but Blok said, “he feels the RCMP would not leave him alone if he did.”

The case was no different than any other personal injury case where some of the injuries or damages claimed have not been proven, Blok maintained.

Although Fong won less than half the amount claimed as costs, the justice said that did not make the award nominal:

“As to the alleged misconduct on the part of (Fong), while he undoubtedly has some personality issues which affected his view of events, he did not proffer his evidence in order to hoodwink the court. His version of events might not have been accepted, but he should not be punished for seeing things as he does.”

The total Fong will receive for costs remains to be determined as the ministry wants them assessed.

“That is another two- to three-day process, and it is a Registrar who will ultimately determine how much the final amount will be,” Fong’s lawyer Paul Kent-Snowsell said.

“It was (and remains) tough slogging given the continued intransigence of the defendants. … I suppose they are trying to show other potential litigants that it will be a fight the whole way — at least, that is my perception.”

The government’s lawyer declined to comment.

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