Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Suing Poilievre?

The following press release was posted on the Liberal Web site this afternoon, relating to the fallout from this sorry episode (transcript here). As they say, interesting...

Liberals Demand Apology from Pierre Poilievre
February 28, 2007

Ottawa – Lawyers on behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada and Liberal MP Navdeep Bains today delivered a letter to Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre demanding that he withdraw his false, misleading and defamatory statements made during an interview on CFRA radio in Ottawa on February 22, 2007.

The statements were calculated to cause damage to the Liberal Party of Canada and to injure the reputation of Mr. Bains and to discredit Mr. Bains as a person and as an elected official. The letter serves as Notice of Action as required by section 5(1) of the Ontario Libel and Slander Act.

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Gayle said...

Wow - they must feel they are on pretty solid ground here (and I think they are), because losing this will hurt them. I am glad they are pursuing this.

This reminds me of another Conservative MP, who also made sladerous comments (in a letter to the editor), who was also sued, and who settled, out of court, AFTER his party lost the election.

Ah yes, good old Stockwell Day. He only cost Alberta taxpayers 60,000 dollars or so for that little slip up. I wonder if the federal conservatives will pay this lawsuit out of the government coffers too.

Jason Hickman said...

Maybe the Libs think they have a case here.

I don't practice libel & slander law, and I would presume that they got advice from someone who does. But based on the facts as set out in the CBC post you linked to, I think they've got a hell of a hill to climb before they'll get a judgment in their favour.

And from a political point of view, being seen as the Party that runs for their lawyers when they hear something they don't like isn't exactly a good thing.

Gayle, remember the distinguishing feature in the Stock Day case is that he said stuff about an "ordinary" citizen - not a political party or MP. I suspect that a judge would be very reluctant to leash MPs & political parties via the libel-and-slander law when they're going after each other, unless it's a clear-cut case - they'd be seen as horning in on political issues.

(And in any event, if calling your political opponents extremists or the like is grounds for a lawsuit, the Libs would have been amongst the first to have been forced to start writing some cheques.)

A BCer in Toronto said...

I hope so too Gayle. And Jason, like you while I'm no libel lawyer, I was surprised to see the news release. I too assume they've gotten some advice from people with a better understanding of libel law than us. Because with political figures especially, the latitude given to fair comment is pretty wide.

Gayle said...

Poilievre is already on spin control. I saw him on Mike Duffy, and when pressed by Mark Holland to name these extremist members of the liberals, he answered "all the liberals who did the extreme flip-flop and voted against their own legislation". I am not sure how he managed to keep a straight face when he said that. It was pretty funny...

Not sure the liberals even need an apology with this guy's stupid comments.

And jason - like lawyers (the victim in the Day slander), politicians rely on their reputations - without a good reputation they can kiss their career good bye. I think a judge would understand that.

Dan McKenzie said...

Again, not a lawyer, but if I read this correctly it doesn't neccesarily mean the the Libs are taking action. I could, and probably am wrong.

ottlib said...

Silly bugger, he is not supposed to make statements like that outside of the Commons Chamber.

Jason, libel is libel regardless of who commits it or who is on the receiving end. The Liberals have a case and they are pursuing it, which is not surprising considering who we are talking about.

Mr. Poilievre is in the riding next to the one I live in and he is becoming more vulnerable as he goes on with his antics. The folks of Nepean-Carleton want to be represented by someone who does act and sound like a frat boy.

So by pursuing this they force Stephen Harper into a decision. Support Mr. Poilievre, thus giving him a headache he does not need going into an election. Or leave Mr. Poilievre twisting in the wind in which case he will eventually cave, to save himself the legal bills, but damaging himself politically in the process.

Either way this has the potential to hurt the Conservatives to a certain extent.

Jason Hickman said...

Gayle / Ottlib, maybe. But I'm thinking that a judge is also going to consider the context in which the words were said and decide that the court is not going to police this sort of thing. In other words, a judge isn't necessarily going to decide that an offensive comment is a libelous one.

If MP X gets on the radio and says that MP Z is molesting children or signing bad cheques or something, that would likely be actionable (unless, of course, it were true).

But that's not the same as one MP saying something like another party's MPs have adopted an extremist agenda, or even that they are extremists, and I don't think a judge would see it as the same thing. I still think that if this case actually went to trial - which I doubt will ever happen - the Libs would lose. But hey, you never can tell what a court will do till it does it.

And on the political side, maybe I'm mistaken when I think most Canadians will say "They're suing over THAT? I hear politicans saying worse things all the time, etc.", but I don't think so.

Dan, you're right: serving a libel notice (which I don't think can be done via a press release, but I'm assuming the Libs also sent a letter) is something you need to do if you want to sue in this jurisdiction, but it doesn't mean you have to follow through & start a lawsuit.

ottlib said...


This will never make it to a judge.

This is about turning a silly statement back onto the person who made it and making life difficult for him and his leader.

As well, it is meant to see how Mr. Poilievre will react. He is not the coldest beer in the fridge so he may just react belligerently and further embarrass himself and his Party and perhaps say something that is libelous beyond a doubt.

In all likelyhood the letter is the only step the Liberals will take unless Mr. Poilievre gives them some more material to work with. Something that is not beyond the realm of possibility.

A BCer in Toronto said...

if I read this correctly it doesn't neccesarily mean the the Libs are taking action

Yes and no. They're not suing yet, no, but they have served Pierre with a legal letter which basically notice hey, we think you've libeled us, you better apologize us or we'll sue. I'd say it's to libel law what a cease and desist letter would be to copyright law.

libel is libel regardless of who commits it or who is on the receiving end.

That is true ottlib. But if iirc from my one semester of media law back in journalism school, the "fair comment" exception is usually applied a little more broadly with public figures then it would be were we talking about libel against a regular person. So, in that sense, it's a slightly tougher hill to climb is all. Still, generally speaking, quite climbable though. And I agree, Pierre sucks.

Jason, yes, I think the nub of it (and it is more useful to read the transcript link too, not just the cbc piece) is that I don't think Pierre has named named, as they say. So that would mean, rather than the alleged libel being against a specific person, such as an MP, it would be the LPC that was allegedly libeled. And such a case could be argued, but I think with a lesser chance of success than had a specific person/s been named.

And the release did say a letter had been served on Pierre today.

As ottlib said though it is unlikely to go to a trial though. Libel cases usually don't, I don't think. As this point the ball is in Pierre's court. It will be interesting to see how he, and Stephen, respond.

On the political considerations side, perhaps you're right. But I also think that, given that such actions aren't taken every day, people are going to see a line was crossed by the Cons here. And, whether or not it was libelous or not, I think a line was.

knb said...

The folks of Nepean-Carleton want to be represented by someone who does act and sound like a frat boy.

He does look like one, a particularly petulant one, doesn't he?

Gayle, I saw that tonight too, while I was laughing out loud. My take is, he screwed up and because he's valuable, (in terms of buying everything Harp is selling), his penance was to go in front of the camera's and deal with it.

He looked a right idiot, to coin a phrase.

Mike said...

I live in Nepean-Carleton...please somebody sue his sorry ass and leave him twisting in the wind. He is a freaking embarrassment.

And yeah, he would be frat boy if he had graduated from University.

Koby said...

This is common Conservative tactic. The Liberals need to develop a series of talking points to counteract it and to link them together. I would suggest they liken such attacks to the swift boating of John Kerry.

Gayle said...

I think his attempt to do damage control on Mike Duffy tonight was due to this letter.

He is not going to apologize, but he is going to spin his words. The "extremists in the liberal party" are now the people who perform "extreme flip-flops". It is ridiculous, and makes him look ridiculous.

Liberals do not have to do anything else - he has eaten his words by giving them a new meaning. He will watch what he says from now on.

Dan McKenzie said...

In other legal news Harper reached a settlement with his estranged chef!

Loraine Lamontagne said...

Yes, Dan McKenzie - and obviously Harper enjoys the good cuisine of the new chef at 24 Sessex, formerly GG Clarkson's chef - you will recall the caviar extravaganza scandal created by Peter MacKay. Some would have us believe that Harper's first decision as PM was his Accountability Act but we all know that his first move was to poach the chef from Rideau Hall:)

I also think Minister Finley should be chauffered by Bruno Labonté. The Cons have caused this man and his family enough harm.