An $8 million defamation lawsuit brought by Ontario’s finance minister against former PC leader Patrick Brown and the publisher of his tell-all memoir is an attempt to silence them, says their statement of defence.
“The Optimum Defendants plead that this claim was brought with the intention of silencing the defendants and stifling discussion on those matters of public interest, and to prevent public scrutiny and criticism of the actions of (Vic) Fedeli” and the Progressive Conservative Party, says the document filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
“The effect of this legal action is to interfere with political discourse and to unduly limit expression and debate on those important matters of public interest.”
Filed in late January, Fedeli’s lawsuit accuses Brown of a “vicious and petulant attack” in his book Takedown: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown.
Fedeli’s statement of claim says that Brown made “false and defamatory statements” both in the book and media interviews.
None of the allegations have been tested in court.
Brown stepped down as PC leader more than a year ago after a CTV news report alleged sexual misconduct with two young women. Brown has denied those allegations, and is suing the network, which stands by its report.
Following Brown’s resignation, Fedeli became interim leader for about six weeks before Doug Ford took the helm last March.
Brown mounted a political comeback and was elected mayor of Brampton last October.
Fedeli’s lawsuit names Brown, Optimum Publishing, its parent company JF Moore Lithographers Inc. of Toronto and their owner Dean Baxendale.
Fedeli’s statement of claim said the false and defamatory statements include a “workplace sexual harassment” allegation, descriptions of Fedeli as having a “holier-than-thou” attitude and being a “suck up,” along with descriptions of the former North Bay mayor as toxic, power-hungry, anti-democratic and a political opportunist “who employed ‘henchmen’ to do his dirty bidding.”
The false statements also include the claim made in the book that “Fedeli abused his power as interim leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario to have a sexual-harassment complainant removed from her job and improperly paid off . . . from public funds to silence her, “ Fedeli’s statement of claim said.
“Fedeli has been exposed to hatred, ridicule and contempt, including on social media such as Twitter, and has suffered, and will continue to suffer, damage to his feelings and reputation,” Fedeli’s statement of claim said.
Brown, as a lawyer and politician, knew or should have known because of his own CTV lawsuit that “the repetition and publication of allegations against an individual involved alleged sexual misconduct, particularly when the individual is an elected representative, would be widely repeated and would be highly damaging, “ the statement of claim said.
In Brown and Optimum’s statement of defence, they “deny (that the passages in question) . . . mean and were understood to mean in their plain and ordinary meaning, or in their express and implied meanings, or by innuendo, that Fedeli engaged in workplace sexual harassment,” as Fedeli alleges in his statement of claim.
Instead, Brown and Optimum’s statement of defence says, the words “read in their full and proper context, meant and were understood to mean . . . that a complaint was made by a woman who worked for the Progressive Conservative party that Fedeli had engaged in inappropriate sexual behaviour, but that this complaint had not been adequately investigated or proven in court.”
With files from Rob Ferguson and Robert Benzie
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy