Accounting for Law
Defamation

OCA upholds Rob Ford victory in defamation suit

Canadian Press THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO – Ontario's highest court has upheld a legal victory for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford against a restaurant owner who had sued him for defamation.

George Foulidis had sued over comments Ford made to a newspaper – when he was a city councillor – suggesting an untendered, 20-year leasing deal between Foulidis's company, Tuggs Inc., and the city was corrupt, adding that it ``stinks to high heaven.''

A lower-court judge dismissed the lawsuit in December 2012, ruling that Foulidis did not prove the comments were directed at him nor that they were defamatory.

Foulidis appealed the decision, but the Court of Appeal for Ontario dismissed it in a ruling released today.

The court writes that Foulidis was not the target of Ford's words, nor were the remarks abusive or insulting toward Foulidis.

The trial judge had come to the same conclusion, saying Ford ``voiced only a suspicion of corruption'' and linked the word corruption to city council in-camera meetings, and the Appeal Court says it sees no basis to interfere with that.

Toronto civil litigator Patricia Virc, whose practice includes defamation law, tells AdvocateDaily.com, "The court felt that neither a proper plaintiff nor a proper defendant had been named in the suit."

She notes in an interview with the online legal news outlet that it was the journalist who connected Tuggs to Foulidis, "yet the journalist and the newspaper were not sued."

"Rob Ford referenced the corporation, Tuggs, and said it was improper for council to have entered the lease without an open and transparent tender process," says Virc. "It was Doug Ford who insinuated there was a financial quid pro quo, which left the judges scratching their heads as to why Doug Ford was not sued."

Virc says another case, Foulidis v. Baker was heard at the same time, and also dealt with defamation accusations.

Bruce Baker, a candidate for office in the Toronto municipal elections of 2010, wrote a confidential letter to council referencing a letter written by someone else "that alleges that Tuggs Inc’s owner, George Foulidis, has influenced Toronto City Hall for favours," and referencing an article published in Toronto Life, that Baker said "raises further questions regarding election finance donations," says Virc, referring to the Ontario Superior Court decision.

"Baker called on council to require a full audit and investigation," Virc tells AdvocateDaily.com. "The court held that Baker’s statements were defamatory: Baker referred to Foulidis by name and the 'sting of the libel' was that Foulidis had influenced city government for favours. Baker was not liable for his defamatory remarks, however, because the court found that he delivered the letter on an occasion of 'qualified privilege.'"

Qualified privilege is a libel defence available where statements that are otherwise defamatory are conveyed non-maliciously and for an honest and well-motivated reason, explains Virc.

"Because Baker marked his letter confidential and sent it to a restricted constituency rather than the world at large, the court found the timing and manner of the communication were reasonably appropriate in the context and Baker was without malice," she says, adding his defence of qualified privilege was successful.

"On the other hand, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s defamation suit against Tim Hudak may have more traction than either of the Foulidis suits," says Virc. "Ontario voters were more forgiving than I was in relation to the gas plant scandal, but I do think Tim Hudak crossed the defamation line in stating that Premier Kathleen Wynne 'oversaw and possibly ordered the criminal destruction of documents.' Hudak can only hope to prove at trial that his statement is true. While the statement may be actionable defamation, it may be moot in the end as it appears not to have caused the premier any damages."

– with files from AdvocateDaily.com

© 2014 The Canadian Press

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