Court orders Ikea monkey 'mom' to pay legal costs of $83K to primate sanctuary

TORONTO – The former owner of the Ikea monkey must pay $83,000 in costs to a primate sanctuary she sued, an Ontario court ordered Friday.

Yasmin Nakhuda, who has referred to herself as the monkey’s “mom,” lost Darwin the monkey after he escaped from her car in December 2012 at an Ikea store in Toronto.

Animal services nabbed the monkey and sent him to Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary in Sunderland, Ont., who Nakhuda sued in an attempt to get Darwin back.

An Ontario Superior Court judge ruled in September that the monkey is a wild animal, and based on case law that means Nakhuda lost ownership the minute Darwin made his great escape.

The court released a decision on costs Friday, ordering Nakhuda to pay the sanctuary and its owner $83,000, which is in addition to her own legal costs.

Darwin himself is doing well, growing and thriving, the sanctuary reports. He is grooming one of the baboons and mimicking the vocalizations of two other Japanese macaques there, the sanctuary says on its website.

“Darwin is a cheeky little guy, that’s for sure!” the sanctuary writes.

“He loves to play all day, and is always bouncing off the walls with excitement, especially when his favourite people come to visit! He loves to play tricks on you when you’re not looking, like any adolescent!”

Cherries are his favourite food and he loves swimming in kiddie pools and playing, the sanctuary writes.

“Darwin loves Curious George!” it says on its website. “He has a Curious George doll whom he takes to his pool to give a bath, and grooms him and tries to get him to drink.”

The costs decision revealed that several months before the trial the sanctuary offered to settle. The lawsuit would be dismissed, Nakhuda would pay the sanctuary $37,500 and give them the name of the exotic animal breeder who sold Darwin to her.

Lawyer Kevin Toyne represented the sanctuary pro bono, but the court said it is still appropriate in some such cases for lawyers to get some reimbursement for their services from the losing side in a lawsuit.

Vallee cited case law that concluded awarding costs to a pro bono lawyer both ensures that each side in a lawsuit knows they can’t abuse the system with no financial penalty and that it promotes access to justice by encouraging lawyers to take pro bono cases.

Cost awards are generally made directly to the party, in this case the sanctuary and its owner, and Toyne said whether all or some of that money is going to him is a confidential matter between him and his clients.

Judge Mary Vallee calculated about $66,000 in lawyer fees, plus tax, plus expenses such as court filing and photocopying costs. The trial was only four days, but “unique issues” were raised and required more preparation than a normal four-day trial, Vallee wrote.

“In comparison to provincial and national issues, the ownership of a monkey could be seen as relatively unimportant,” Vallee wrote in her decision.

“In contrast, the issue was extremely important to the parties. It also highlighted the city of Toronto’s exotic animal bylaw, which prohibits keeping certain species within the city.”

Nakhuda argued that it wasn’t a proper pro bono case because sanctuary owner Sherri Delaney earns a police officer salary and owns both her home and the sanctuary property.

But Vallee disagreed, noting that the sanctuary property is “significantly encumbered,” with several mortgages. Many people who are not completely broke would still have trouble funding this lawsuit, Vallee wrote.

Nakhuda also argued that the sanctuary acted improperly by making unfounded animal abuse allegations, which she says was done just to defame her, then withdrawing them right before trial.

But Vallee found that there was “sufficient evidence” that corporal punishment was being used on the monkey to subdue him. The sanctuary withdrew the allegations in order to keep the trial short, she wrote.

Neither Nakhuda nor her lawyer Ted Charney responded to a request for comment.

She is appealing Vallee’s decision that Darwin should stay at the sanctuary and that appeal is expected to be heard some time this year.

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