Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli is keeping mum on an attempt to block his $8-million defamation lawsuit against former PC leader Patrick Brown over a tell-all memoir published a year ago.
“I won’t be commenting because it’s a very active lawsuit,” Fedeli said Friday of the legal action, which claims Brown’s book mounted a “vicious and petulant attack” against him, in part by alleging he sexually harassed an employee.
Brown’s lawyer, Howard Winkler, has brought a motion to have the case dismissed as a “strategic lawsuit against public participation” under the Courts of Justice Act.
The provision came into force four years ago with the goal of balancing freedom of expression on matters of public interest with the right of a person to defend his or her reputation. It was developed as the province sought to ensure residents can speak out on issues without fear of expensive litigation.
A court has yet to hear arguments on the merits of the bid to have the case dismissed before it goes to trial, but would have to consider whether the allegations cause serious harm to Fedeli, who repeatedly declined to comment on the matter.
“I won’t be making any comments that I haven’t already made,” he told reporters.
Brown was elected mayor of Brampton last year after his abrupt departure from Queen’s Park over allegations of sexual impropriety in a CTV News report. He published a memoir entitled “Takedown: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown” on the day of Fedeli’s first fall economic statement last November. Fedeli was Premier Doug Ford’s finance minister at the time.
Fedeli’s statement of claim in the lawsuit filed last January said false and defamatory statements in the tome include allegations of “workplace sexual harassment” while Fedeli was interim PC leader in the weeks between Brown’s dramatic resignation and Ford’s leadership victory.
The statement added the book falsely claims Fedeli “abused his power as interim leaders 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.”
The case is being closely watched at Queen’s Park in the event any current or former political aides are called to provide evidence.
Brown also described Fedeli in the memoir as a “suck up” and having a “holier-than-thou attitude.”
“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,” adds his statement of claim. None of its allegations have been proven in court.
The lawsuit also names Brown’s publisher, Optimum Publishing, its parent company JF Moore Lithographers Inc of Toronto and its owner, Dean Baxendale.
Fedeli, who was is off on a trade mission to India next week, was moved from the prestigious finance minister’s post last spring to the smaller economic development ministry.
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Brown resigned the PC leadership in January 2018 over the CTV News story, which alleged sexual impropriety with two young women while he was the federal Conservative MP for Barrie.
He has denied the allegations and filed a $8-million defamation lawsuit against the network, which stands by its reporting.