Monday, March 03, 2008

UPDATE: Liberals will fight the libel threat

Following up on the post below on Stephen Harper slapping Stephane Dion et al with a libel suit relating to the Cadman affair, it looks like the Liberals won’t be apologizing any time soon.

I’m listening to the audio feed of QP, here’s a very rough transcript of the opening question and answer:

Dion: Well, Mr. Speaker, it’s going to take much more than lawsuits to stop us from getting to the truth.

So, now, is the PM willing to change his story? Is he ready to tell the truth?


Harper
: Mr. Speaker, the truth is that in the past several months, as the problems of the Liberal leader and its party have mounted, they have engaged mr. Speaker in more and more extreme accusations, going to the point Mr. Speaker of publishing on their Web site last week false allegations of criminal conduct on my part.

This will prove in court to be the biggest mistake the leader of the Liberal Party has ever made.

A little later Michael Ignatieff, also threatened with the lawsuit, got in an amusing line:
I think the PM for the charming letter he sent me this morning. I was very impressed.

So, the fight is on it would seem. Shoot-out at the OK coral. I question the legal soundness of the Liberal strategy, but I like the Liberal moxie and it could play out interestingly politically, if expensively. They should send out an e-mail soon for donations to the legal defence.

It seems the Liberals are focusing pretty strongly on the tape of the interview between the reporter/author and Stephen Harper and holding it up as a confirmation by Harper that an offer regarding a life insurance policy was made.

The tape is certainly open to interpretation, and could be read either way. I guess we’ll see what a judge has to say. The Conservative defence in the Cadman affair has been pathetic, but as I said earlier while I think they’ll take a beating in the court of public opinion, a libel suit places the onus of proof on the Liberals and this is a difficult, if not impossible, case to prove in a court of law.

It will be interesting to watch though. Budget, what budget?

UPDATE: Reading the libel notice again I wonder if perhaps all of the allegedly libelous statements in the Liberal Web articles were, in actuality, quotes from questions and statements within the House of Commons? I thought only some were, but looking again it seems all might well be.

If all are quotes from the HoC, that would change the legal stakes here dramatically. As we know, you can't be sued for libel for what you say in the HoC. The libel case would then hinge on whether or not the same right the media have to report statements in the HoC under the parliamentary immunity privilege applies to political party press releases. That could raise many interesting points of discussion.

Clearly the Conservatives might well have a legal opinion the privilege does not apply, or they were betting the Liberals would back down. Could the Liberals have a legal opinion the privilege does apply, and that they're on safe ground here?

Could be why they're willing to fight here. On the truth defence against libel they're on shaky ground, but if they can invoke the parliamentary libel shield then it doesn't matter.

LEAVINGTOCATCHABUSDATE: Nice line from QP:

Liberal MP Susan Kadis told Harper: "You're on tape like Nixon."

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers

25 comments:

bigcitylib said...

A libel suit, I am told, will come to trial years down the road. I'm not sure that should be something to worry about at the moment.

A View From The Left said...

Jeff, when I initially read it I thought it looked like all the statements were from the House. To me it almost seems like the Conservatives are trying to threaten libel over misrepresentation of questions from inside the House. If that is indeed the case then I think the Conservatives are on pretty thin ice here as far as a libel case.

I think the whole threat to libel was their hail-mary attempt to get the story out of the news cycle.

Steve V said...

Jeff

CBC just a libel lawyer on their program. He essentially said the Dion, Iggy, Goodale charges are baseless, a non-starter. He did however say there "could be", "might be" a line that was crossed on the website, because it was conclusive. That was prefaced by some recognition that politics is generally considered a different animal. Further to what bcl said, it will take years, according to him. Didn't seem overly impressed.

Anonymous said...

I think portions of the tape are open to interpretation, however what is undeniable is that Stephen Harper said that there were financial offers made. And since such offers are illegal, it appears what was on the Liberal website is not libel, even if it was said outside the House of Commons.
-scott
thescottross.blogspot.com

A BCer in Toronto said...

Steve,

That was prefaced by some recognition that politics is generally considered a different animal.

In a libel case the bar is set higher for public figures. Meaning that public figures need to except to take some hits, and there needs to be a certain level of freedom of speech for public debate. So, basically, I can get away with saying a lot worse about Stephen Harper then I could say about you.

It's called fair comment. That said, fair comment only goes so far.

Scott,

however what is undeniable is that Stephen Harper said that there were financial offers made

It comes down to just what the financial considerations were. There could be considerations that would not be illegal. For example, help with his next campaign as a CPC candidate. That's a dubious scenario yes, but it wouldn't be illegal. The crux of it would be just what was meant by financial considerations, just what was offered.

Jason Hickman said...

Jeff, any thoughts re: this?

A BCer in Toronto said...

Jason,

First, what's with all the bad grammar and ...s in that statement?

Anyway, I believe that Dona Cadman believes Stephen Harper. I still have some doubts myself though, and I think a lot of other people do, because there's still a fair bit that doesn't add up.

To her point though about her considering this a few overzealous individuals, didn't Harper say in that driveway interview they were acting in behalf of the party?

Actually, here's the quote:

Zytaruk: "You said (inaudible) beforehand and stuff? It wasn't even a party guy, or maybe some friends, if it was people actually in the party?"

Harper: "No, no, they were legitimately representing the party.


Also, Dona says Chuck never told her who these overzealous guys were. I take it that it wasn't Finley and Cadman? I'm thinking Harper knows who these two rogue agents were, maybe he could tell us, since they were freelancers.

So, really, I accept Dona Cadman's statement for what it's worth, but it doesn't really alter the fundamental questions here, and indeed raises one or two more.

A BCer in Toronto said...

*Finley and Flanagan.

Anonymous said...

Jeff:
"There could be considerations that would not be illegal. For example, help with his next campaign as a CPC candidate."

Yes that would be a situation that would not be illegal, however Harper did not say that. In saying two Conservative Officials offered to offset his election expenses, and not specifying that he meant only if he was a Conservative candidate, that is an illegal situation.

Now he may argue differently now, but strictly going by what Harper said, what those two Conservatives did was illegal.

-scott
thescottross.blogspot.com

wilson said...

There were 2 meetings. One 2 days before the vote, identity of the visitors is unknown (at least by Dona (hint));
the second one was the day of the vote, by Finley and Flanagan.

A warning sign to Libs:
PMSH: '...This will prove in court to be the biggest mistake the leader of the Liberal Party has ever made...'

What if....the 2 unidenified visitors weren't CPC representatives???

A BCer in Toronto said...

Wilson: "What if....the 2 unidenified visitors weren't CPC representatives???"

Stephen Harper: "No, no, they were legitimately representing the party.

wilson said...

I always wondered why the CPC didn't settle with Riddell out of court, instead of pushing it and then appealing.
Maybe they were looking for a decision on what constitutes an 'offer' and 'campaign expenses'.

The court ruled that the CPC had to pay Riddell for the verbal agreement to pay $50k for campaign expenses should he step aside for Cutler.
Time to look up the terms of that court ruling?

wilson said...

BCer...the meeting with Finley and Flannigan was on a DIFFERENT DAY than the meeting Dona refers to in the bio.

wilson said...

And by the way, the info that comes out in 'discovery' may be more important to PMSH than actually winning a libel suit.

Kingston said...

BCer, I think the LPC is screwed on this one, then again I think PMSH has finally pushed them into a corner that Mr. Dion cannot run from with out mailing in his resignation. According to WK the lawyer they have hired concerning this is no timid butterfly and I am sure that he has advised them it is a slam dunk or they would not of taken the political risk that this entails. As to if PMSH can take a punch, I think he has had just about enough cheap shots at his reputation after the KHS/BM ethics comedy and is now going to say put up or shut up to the LPC. Just my thoughts

Gayle said...

"I'm thinking Harper knows who these two rogue agents were, maybe he could tell us, since they were freelancers."

If he actually pursues this lawsuit, he is going to have to give up the names, and they will also have to testify under oath.

Contrary to Wilson's high hopes, I think it will be the conservatives who will not want to give up any information during discovery. The liberals will have virtually nothing to disclose. The conservatives will no doubt have a lot to disclose.

As I said over at Steve's, if this lawsuit does actually proceed, and I do not believe it will, you should expect Bains and Kennedy to proceed on their lawsuit.

The lawyers will be raking it in!

Gayle said...

kingston - I think it is possible Harper is taking a page from Mulroney's book here - when backed into a corner lash out and blame everyone else.

I suspect he knew Dona Cadman would release her statement today, and he expected the combination of that statement and the lawsuit would result in the liberals backing down.

Kingston said...

Sorry Gayle I cannot agree with you on this, The LPC bashed Harper at every opportunity through out the KHS/BM inquiry and it is pretty obvious that Harper is a fighter, it was just a matter of time before the LPC stepped over the line as far as Harper is concerned, What would not surprise me, is if the Lawyer for Harper does not try and hurry this along with a short disclosure time of say two months. It can be done with a good reason, i.e. with a minor govt the trashing of his reputation is preventing him from effectively doing his job etc, etc etc, I know you say bullshit, but it all depends on the judge.

MarkCh said...

The quoting issue raises an interesting point. Can Dion go on TV and say: "I said in the House 'Harper is a criminal'"? He can't go on TV and say "Harper is a criminal", we already know that. But can he quote himself?

Gayle said...

Kingston - it will all remain to be seen. It is certainly not going to be resolved by you and I.

However I would point out that the court will not be impressed by the fact some conservatives are telling Robert Fife this was all done for political reasons. For that reason I doubt a court would "speed this thinkg along".

wilson said...

Libs spent the last week insisting that Dona Cadman is honest and telling the absolute truth.

Do Libs now think that over the week-end Dona Cadman become a liar?.

Gayle said...

Not at all wilson. She clearly believes Harper when he tells her he knows nothing about an insurance policy.

And I believe Harper when he told the authour that he knew of some financial incentives/offers but did not know the details. It is enough that he knew something was on offer.

And I wait patiently for Harper to clear the air here - and I do not mean his sad attempt to try to stop the story.

Steve V said...

I just saw another legal expert on CTV, saying she wasn't sure there was really much there, mostly a cut and paste from Parliament.

Wilson and the gang need something to cling to, the fact the Libs didn't pull this from the site, plus Dion and Dryden's comments outside of the house today, based on legal advice (according to Iggy) tell me that the ground is more firm than some are arguing. At the very least, there is no way this will be resolved for years, if the Liberals choose, if the Cons follow through, which apparently is a big if, and that means it will be an open question moving forward. Two MP's took the dare today, nobody is going to back down.

cyberwanderer said...

I think the libel suit is more of an attempt at distraction. If he does not do something big, he will remain in defensive position. The tape is pretty clear about a financial offer that Harper knew was being made.

Mark Francis said...

BCer in TO said:

"In a libel case the bar is set higher for public figures. Meaning that public figures need to except to take some hits, and there needs to be a certain level of freedom of speech for public debate. So, basically, I can get away with saying a lot worse about Stephen Harper then I could say about you."

Nope. Not in Canada. There is no distinction between public and private figures in Canada. Everyone has an equal right to privacy and everyone has an equal right to reputation.

I would argue that your belief should be the correct interpretation and that s1 of the Charter allows for it... but so far, this has not happened.

Libel law in the UK was the same as ours up to about 10 years ago when the House of Lords allowed for what is now known as the Nelson defense, which allows for people to defame public figures with falsehoods, as long as certain criteria are met. From what I know of the criteria, this case would easily fit.

My lawyer, Dan Burnett, wrote a great opinion piece on this a few years ago:

http://www.lawyersweekly.ca/index.php?section=article&articleid=371