Vancouver mayor files ‘anti-SLAPP’ petition in response to lawsuit

BC’s anti-SLAPP legislation, introduced in 2019, was “initiated to balance the often competing principles of freedom of expression and protection of reputation,” says Vancouver lawyer Douglas Eyford.

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Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has filed to have a defamation charge against him dismissed under BC’s new so-called anti-SLAPP legislation.

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The defamation lawsuit against the mayor was filed in February 2021 by seven former and current directors of the Non-Partisan Association, Stewart’s political rivals. The NPA prosecutors alleged that Stewart defamed them with a: Statement of January 2021 on what he called the board’s failure to stop the spread of “extremism” within the party.

Now Stewart is filing an anti-SLAPP filing to get rid of the NPA directors’ claim.

When BC’s legislature unanimously passed the Protection of Public Participation Act in 2019, Attorney General David Eby said the law was designed to protect free speech by preventing powerful people and groups from suing activists, journalists or other critics with it. aim to silence or punish them. . Such actions are sometimes known as strategic lawsuits against public participation (“SLAPP”), or lawsuits against harassment.

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The NPA, Vancouver’s oldest and most historically successful political party, elected ten politicians to the city council, park board and school board in the 2018 municipal election, more than any other party. But since the NPA membership elected a new board of directors in November 2019, the party’s elected politicians have expressed a range of concerns about the board’s behavior and comments, with seven out of ten leaving the party.

Stewart’s attorney on Monday filed a notice with the BC Supreme Court of a petition for an injunction dismissing the defamation claim and seeking costs and damages. The application is accompanied by an affidavit sworn by the mayor, which includes dozens of pages of copies of stories from various local media outlets, including this newspaper, describing the stories as “widely read by Vancouver residents regarding changes in the leadership of the NPA who suggested a shift in that leadership further to the right.”

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Since the enactment of anti-SLAPP legislation in 2019, the BC Supreme Court has ruled on only a handful of these applications.

The legislation aims to “balance the often competing principles of free speech and protecting reputation,” said Douglas Eyford, a Vancouver attorney who has worked in defamation law but is not involved with the Stewart-NPA. -matter.

With Stewart’s anti-SLAPP filing, the primary responsibility will be with him to demonstrate the comments in question regarding matters of public interest, Eyford said, adding: “Frankly, the NPA and Kennedy Stewart are both swimming in the waters of the municipal politics, so that part of the test seems to me like it could be passed very easily.

If Stewart can convince the court that the statements were about matters of public interest, “then there is a shifting burden,” Eyford said, and the NPA plaintiffs would then have to show that their claim is well founded and should not be dismissed.

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Prosecutors include NPA President David Mawhinney and former and current party executives – Christopher Wilson, David Pasin, Phyllis Tang, Angelo Isidorou, Federico Fuoco and Wesley Mussio. Mussio, who is a lawyer, has filed the defamation lawsuit.

Asked Tuesday for comment on Stewart’s anti-SLAPP action, Mussio replied by email that the plaintiffs “intend to proceed with the trial as it is not appropriate for them to be unfairly characterized by the mayor of the city of Vancouver.”

“We intend to hold the mayor accountable for his hate speech,” Mussio said. “The application will certainly be vigorously defended.”

The NPA directors filed the lawsuit in the BC Supreme Court in February 2021, but Stewart didn’t formally file it until September. Since Stewart first learned of the lawsuit in February last year, Stewart has “refused to make public statements about the themes of the press release, compared to what he would have done had the lawsuit not taken place.” , he swore in his affidavit.

Stewart could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Stewart’s attorney, David F. Sutherland, declined to discuss the case while it was in court. When asked whether taxpayers pay Stewart’s legal bills, Sutherland said no, adding: “Kennedy Stewart is grateful to his family for their support, financially and otherwise, for his defense of the lawsuit brought by the NPA. “

dfumano@postmedia.com

twitter.com/fumano

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