Lawyer for Bloc Quebecois leader serves TV network and panel with legal warning


QUEBEC — A lawyer for Bloc Quebecois Leader Martine Ouellet has sent a legal warning to a TV network in Quebec and the panellists of a political talk show for recent remarks about her.

Guy Bertrand says Ouellet is taking issue with comments made on "La Joute'' on March 8 and he argues they constitute an attack on her reputation.

The panellists’ mission is to dissect political developments in Quebec, the rest of Canada and around the world, and the program often leads to spirited exchanges among the four.

Seven of the Bloc's 10 MPs quit in late February because of deep-seated differences with Ouellet over her leadership style, and the March 8 edition of "La Joute'' included debate on her proposal to settle the differences with a referendum on what the Bloc's vision should be.

The panellists associated her initiative with a "questionable, dishonest, stupid and absurd manoeuvre'' and there were suggestions the referendum question would be written in such a way Ouellet would get the result she wants.

In an interview with, Toronto litigator and mediator Howard Winkler says that in order to succeed in an action involving the kinds of comments in question, Ouellet would have to demonstrate either that there was specific malice on the part of the panelists she has threatened to sue or that they fundamentally mischaracterized her position on the issue of a referendum question.

“To attack someone’s ideas or positions, especially in the context of the policies of a provincial political party is not, in my view, an attack on Ms. Ouellets’ reputation,” says Winkler, principal and founder of Winkler Dispute Resolution.

He says that often in advance of an election cycle, there’s an increase in the number of threats of defamation actions, “most of which amount to nothing more than political posturing and which are likely to die quiet deaths once the elections are over.”

“Given the nature of the words reported to be the subject matter of the complaint, it is my view that the threat of legal action is most likely nothing more than political posturing on the part of Ms. Ouellet in an effort to impact the nature of future reporting on the issue,” Winkler says. “In my experience, such a tactic, especially against mainstream media, is rarely effective. I don’t expect the media to be chilled in any way by such a threat in these circumstances.”

Bertrand said Ouellet was affected by what she heard, as were her two children and her mother.

The lawyer sent the legal warning on March 19 and gave the network 48 hours to issue a retraction and an apology.

Neither was forthcoming.

Bertrand said Ouellet has a year to decide whether she will seek damages.

— with files from

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