Patrick Brown is trying to stop an $8 million defamation lawsuit from Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli, who claims the former PC leader’s tell-all memoir is a “vicious and petulant attack” for alleging he sexually harassed an employee.
A lawyer for Brown, now mayor of Brampton, has brought a new motion to have Fedeli’s case dismissed under a section of the Courts of Justice Act aimed at curbing what are known as “strategic lawsuits against public participation” or SLAPP actions.
Brown’s lawyer, Howard Winkler, said Wednesday no date has been set for the motion to be heard and that Fedeli’s legal team has not yet responded to it.
“This legislation recognizes the importance of promoting broad participation in discussion on matters of public interest; discourages the use of litigation as a means of unduly limiting expression on matters of public interest; and reduces the risk that participation on matters of public interest will be hampered by fear of legal action,” Winkler told the Star.
He said there is a “fast-track, pretrial mechanism” for the court to consider the motion.
“This is especially so where the plaintiff is unable to show sufficiently serious harm arising from the public interest expression,” Winkler said.
Neither Fedeli nor his lawyer responded to the Star’s requests for comment Wednesday.
Four high-placed Conservative sources say the premier’s office has been trying to get Fedeli — who served as interim PC leader after Brown resigned in 2018 — to drop the lawsuit before any current or former political aides are called to provide evidence.
Fedeli, who served as Premier Doug Ford’s finance minister until his demotion to economic development last June, launched the case after Brown’s book, Takedown: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown, was published on the day of Fedeli’s first fall economic statement last November.
A statement of claim from Fedeli last January said false and defamatory statements in the book include the allegation of “workplace sexual harassment” while he was interim PC leader prior to Ford’s leadership victory, descriptions of Fedeli being a “suck up” and having a “holier-than-thou” attitude, along with descriptions of him as a toxic, power-hungry, anti-democratic political opportunist “who employed ‘henchmen’ to do his dirty bidding.”
The statement also said the book falsely claims 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 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,” the statement of claim said.
The anti-SLAPP legislation, introduced in 2015, was designed to balance freedom of expression with the right of a person to defend his or her reputation as the province sought to ensure residents are able to speak out on issues without fears of costly litigation.
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Fedeli’s lawsuit against Brown — which has not been tested in court — also names his publisher, Optimum Publishing, its parent company JF Moore Lithographers Inc of Toronto and its owner, Dean Baxendale.
Brown resigned the Tory leadership in January 2018 following a CTV News story alleging sexual impropriety with two young women while he was the federal Conservative MP for Barrie. Brown has denied the allegations and filed an $8 million defamation suit against the television network, which stands by its story.