London city councillor’s lawsuit against 980 CFPL, former candidate dismissed
An appeals court judge has tossed a $3.5-million defamation lawsuit filed by a London city councillor against a former political opponent and Corus Entertainment in light of provincial legislation designed to protect freedom of expression.
Coun. Bill Armstrong sued his 2014 opponent, Nancy McSloy, and three others over comments they made surrounding his 1987 conviction for sexual assault, for which he was pardoned.
McSloy revealed Armstrong’s conviction in a Facebook post in the lead-up to the election, saying that she published the information because it caused her to be concerned for the safety of the community.
Armstrong also sued 980 CFPL’s parent company, Corus Entertainment, for broadcasting McSloy’s allegations on air with host Craig Needles, and in a story on the station’s website.
Despite the controversy, Armstrong won re-election in 2014 and is registered to seek another term in the Oct. 22 election. He did not respond to an emailed request for comment on Thursday.
The defendants in the case sought a dismissal of the lawsuit under the province’s so-called anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) legislation.
Ontario introduced the Protection of Public Participation Act in 2015 to promote free speech and discourage the strategy of using litigation and the courts to quash criticism on matters of public importance.
A judge denied the motion for dismissal, but the defendants sought an appeal.
In dismissing the case on Thursday, Court of Appeal judge David Doherty found that, contrary to the motion judge’s ruling, Armstrong’s lawyers did not meet each of the three conditions under which the case could proceed.
One of those conditions is that the plaintiff had grounds to believe that the defendants had no valid defence for the allegations.
The broadcaster sought to defend its coverage of the matter as responsible communication.
“Corus went to Armstrong, asked him to comment on everything that was said,” Corus lawyer Peter Jacobsen said. “We have the transcript of the radio program and you can see that Craig Needles was very fair. He discussed both sides of the case.”
“He challenged the person who was bringing bad things [up] about Armstrong, and asked her why she was bringing this up all of a sudden in the middle of an election campaign,” he said.
The judge also dismissed the case against McSloy, her husband and two others linked to her campaign.
Jacobsen said the ruling is significant because it reinforces the idea that the anti-SLAPP legislation is “applicable to the media as well as everyone else.”
© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.