Maverick MPP Randy Hillier says a $100,000 defamation lawsuit filed against him by Premier Doug Ford’s chief of staff is the act of a “mercurial” man waging a “personal vendetta” against a critic.
Firing back at a statement of claim from Dean French, Hillier’s latest legal filing defending a series of Twitter posts he made on April 11 calls the action “frivolous and vexatious.”
French’s lawsuit alleges Hillier made “blatantly false” tweets accusing him of illegally destroying ballots in the party’s 2018 leadership race and using his own email server to cast “fraudulent” ballots in the leadership race of Alberta’s United Conservative Party the year before.
His case against Hillier — who sits as an Independent MPP after being ejected from the Progressive Conservative caucus — has not been tested in court.
The lawsuit “has been commenced with the intent of stopping Mr. Hillier from commenting publicly on matters of public interest and to insulate high-ranking government officials in the province of Ontario from criticism,” said the statement of defence filed Thursday in Superior Court of Justice by lawyer Asher Honickman.
French’s lawyer, Gavin Tighe, said he is preparing a response to the 12-page statement of defence as the case proceeds over what the statement of claim described as “outrageous and completely unsupported allegations.”
“Tweets were fabricated by Mr. Hillier and maliciously published by him in relation to his misplaced animosity against Mr. French who he wrongfully blamed for his expulsion from the PC caucus rather than taking any responsibility himself,” Tighe added in the April 29 statement of claim.
“Those tweets were posted with the intent of attempting to destroy Mr. French’s reputation by accusing him of having participated in criminal activity and election fraud both in Alberta and Ontario.”
Hillier’s statement of defence acknowledged he took down the tweets in question the next day and issued an apology, which Tighe said was “inadequate and did not properly retract, address or fit the false and libelous allegations.”
French has been at the centre of other controversies, including complaints from Progressive Conservative MPPs that the premier’s right-hand man scolded one at a caucus meeting outside an airport hotel last Thursday, reducing her to tears. Another MPP complained to Ford about a “culture of fear,” sources told the Star’s Robert Benzie.
“Mr. French has a reputation for clamping down ‘on any semblance of dissent,’ assailing the competence of his colleagues, generally discouraging independent thought and possessing a mercurial temperament,” says the statement of defence from Hillier (Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston).
He was initially suspended from the PC caucus in February for allegedly heckling the parents of autistic children after question period in the legislature as the government was taking heat for changing treatment programs. He was ejected from caucus in March.
Hillier insisted he was saying “yada-yada-yada” to a nearby New Democrat MPP, and not heckling the families gathered in the public galleries. He maintains in the statement of defence that his exit from caucus was “mutual” because he would not agree to stipulations set by the party.
He has said he will run as an Independent in the 2022 provincial election.
French’s lawyer said any proceeds from the lawsuit will be donated to the Big Brothers and Big Sisters charities in Hillier’s riding.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1