Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Sure, go ahead make our day sue each other Toronto city councillors!

Good Day Folks:

In late May, 2005 the taxpayer financed Manitoba Metis Federation (annual budget over $25 million) and 22 or its 23 provincial Board of Directors sued the now defunct for alleged defamation.

The lone holdout was Ron Chartrand Vice-President of the Winnipeg Region having by far the largest membership of the MMF's 7 geographical areas.

Since then another 4 litigants have withdrawn from the case. Left to right Rosemarie McPherson, Richard Delaronde, Bonnie McIntyre and Darrel Deslauriers.

No doubt the rest would have dropped like flies by now save for the fact their legal fees are being paid from public monies.

Prosecuting the case is longtime (since at least 1999) minimum $250/hour MMF solicitor Murray Norman Trachtenberg from Winnipeg law firm Posner & Trachtenberg.

This is a classic textbook case of misusing the law in an attempt to harass, bully, intimidate and threaten unrepresented Defendants. American legal scholars would describe this as a perfect SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) where the focus is litigation chill rather than any perceived harm that may have resulted to the Plaintiffs.

What we don't understand is why Counselor Trachtenberg isn't nicer and more respectful toward us given we've made him a ton of money over the years.

Clare L. Pieuk


Toronto Councillor Rob Ford (Etobicoke North)
Councillors approve city funds for libel suits
Posted: June 2, 2009
By Allison Hanes

Toronto councillors could soon be able to sue each other, the media or members of the public for libel and have their legal bills covered by the city under a policy approved today by the executive committee.

Although councillors can currently defend themselves from libel actions with taxpayer money, a policy permitting them to launch defamation suits with public funds would be a Canadian first, according to a city report.

Mayor David Miller said the measures, which contain “thoughtful” checks and balances, are needed to protect elected office-holders from reputation-staining “lies” that can now be told about them with impunity due to the high cost of litigation.

“I think it’s fair and reasonable and appropriate in the rare instance where there are lies being to give an elected official an opportunity to correct the record. People’s reputations matter and they’re very, very vulnerable now to false allegations,” Mr. Miller said. “For the most part they’re not independently wealthy people… They shouldn’t have to mortgage their house or sell their house in order to defend their reputation – that’s not right.”

Councillor Rob Ford (Etobicoke North) – a polarizing figure at whom the defamation policy may in part be aimed – called it an attack on critics of the Mayor.

“This is as close to communism as you can get,” said Mr. Ford, pictured above. “You can’t say anything anymore or else you’re going to get sued.”

Experts warned a policy permitting taxpayer-funded defamation suits could have the perverse effect of chilling democratic expression or “institutionalizing” conflict in the courts instead debate on the council floor.

“My view is we’ve already gone too far in favours of an over-litigious society,” said University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman. “Lawyers are already playing too big a role in the political process.”

Plus, he added: “If they’ve got a good case, why should the public underwrite it?”

But councillors who attended today’s executive committee meeting described an urgent need to protect themselves from spurious attacks.

Councillor Sandra Bussin (Beaches East York) came armed with a local “tabloid” she said arrived on her doorstep Saturday night making false allegations related to an ongoing dispute over a development in her ward.

“I’ve had it enough is enough is enough,” she said. “I need some help here. I’m finding it very hard to fight on my own.”

Councillor Adam Vaughan (Trinity Spadina) a former journalist, said he was left smeared earlier this year after Mr. Ford made inaccurate and misleading accusations against him on AM radio.

The integrity commissioner made Mr. Ford apologize, but prescribed no sanction.
Other options are needed to address real grievances, Mr. Vaughan said – that doesn’t mean politicians are thin-skinned “sucks.”

“At a certain point you have to draw a line in the sand,” he said. “I can take a punch was well as the next guy. I can throw a punch as well as the next guy – but I don’t hit below the belt.”
Mr. Ford said if the measures are meant to “shut me up” they will “backfire.”

“If you have a problem with me, go ahead and sue me, but use your own money,” he said.
The policy, which still requires the consent of city council, contains criteria to weed out suits that have no public interest from those that might be overtly political.

For instance, a councillor looking sue to must obtain a legal opinion justifying the merits of the claim, including whether the troublesome statements undermine confidence in the individual or city council as a whole.

Approval would have to be granted by the executive committee and city council for funds to be disbursed. Finally, the city solicitor would rule on whether the projected legal bill is reasonable.

Councillors looking to sue a fellow colleague would follow the same steps but would first have to seek the integrity commissioner’s intervention.

Duncan MacLellan, a professor of politics at Ryerson University, said politicians should absolutely be able to seek recourse if they are truly defamed, but said such cases are exceedingly rare and should be the exception not the rule.

“I think the bar has to be set relatively high,” he said. “I hate to say this, but that’s politics. You will always have people who will feel that you are in someone’s pocket or not doing what they want you to do... Unfortunately it’s part of the business.”

Councillors also have other tools at their disposal to fend off attacks from community groups, developers or political rivals – like going to integrity commissioner, sending out a newsletter to set the record straight or speaking out publicly.

There are risks to throwing the resources of the city government behind an aggrieved councillor, he warned.

“The city has millions of dollars at its disposal… If they don’t set limits you could have a councillor with, for lack of a better word, limitless pots of money, going after a community group that has very limited funding,” Professor MacLellan said. “There’s a certain unevenness in that if councillors are allowed to go unfettered. That would certainly affect the democratic process is a major way.”


Blogger Reynald said...

At what point does exaggeration by a politician become an outright lie? The example that comes to mind is Mayor David Miller of Toronto and his seeming inability to give accurate facts when it comes to gun crime. He is good at emotional harangues against legal firearms ownership but that is no substitute for his police controlling the urban gangs or is it a substitute for correcting the socio-economic problems that are the root causes of the gang culture. Remove the gangs and there is no market for illegal firearms.

Now the mayor wants his minions on council to be able to dip into the public trough for prosecution of dissidents that point out the failures on council. As a lawyer Mr. Miller must know such a device is muzzling and would hamper free democratic debate. We have sufficient libel laws and platforms for countering political attacks. I oppose such a move by Mayor Miller as it is not appropriate in a free democratic system.

9:33 AM  

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