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Muslim group takes next step in court action against PMO spokesman

Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 30, 2014. .
Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 30, 2014. . Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – A national Muslim organization is proceeding with a lawsuit against Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his chief spokesman for a comment it says linked the organization to a terrorist group.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims is filing a statement of claim in Ontario Superior Court after failing to get an apology from the Prime Minister’s Office for the January remark.

READ MORE: Muslim group demands apology from Harper, spokesman over comment

Lawyer Jeff Saikaley says the council is seeking a public retraction and damages of up to $100,000.

The comment in question came after the council criticized the inclusion of controversial rabbi Daniel Korobkin in a delegation accompanying Harper to the Middle East.

In January the council took its first legal step by filing a notice of libel which quotes Harper spokesman Jason MacDonald as saying, “We will not take seriously criticism from an organization with documented ties to a terrorist organization such as Hamas.”

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The comment was “categorically false, offensive and defamatory,” Ihsaan Gardee, the council’s executive director, said at the time.

READ MORE: Muslim leaders worried about ‘hate’ message

Discussions between the parties have not resolved the matter.

“We did have conversations with the lawyer representing Stephen Harper and Jason MacDonald, and we weren’t able to reach a satisfactory agreement. So we have no choice but to proceed to the next step,” Saikaley said.

“We’re still hopeful that something can be done to avoid an actual trial, but for the time being this is what’s been required to protect our client’s interests.”

The council describes itself as an independent, non-partisan, non-profit group that has worked for 14 years on human rights and civil liberties issues on behalf of Canadian Muslims.

A half-dozen other rights groups, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of University Teachers, have offered support to the Muslim group.