Edmonton MP suing university newspaper over articles on his associations with controversial right-wing commentator

A 2015 file photo of Edmonton MP Kerry Diotte. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Days after Kerry Diotte threatened legal action against two Twitter users who accused him of being a racist for associating with a far-right political commentator, the Member of Parliament for Edmonton-Griesbach took to Facebook on Monday to announce he is suing a University of Alberta newspaper for comments made about him in the publication.

“The University of Alberta student publication The Gateway recently made unfounded and defamatory comments about me,” Diotte’s post says. “The most damaging and disturbing comment was that I was referred to as ‘a racist’ in not one, but two, articles. It was also falsely alleged I supported candidate Faith Goldy in her campaign to be mayor of Toronto.

“I find racism and racists abhorrent. My grandmother was an Indigenous woman and my family has been on the receiving end of deplorable racist comments,” the post goes on to say.

“My constituency of Edmonton Griesbach is made up of very ethnically diverse communities and I’m proud and happy to serve them.”

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Diotte’s post refers to a newspaper story published by The Gateway on Nov. 3 about the criticism levelled against University of Alberta Students’ Union president Reed Larsen over posing for a photo with Diotte and then tweeting it out, as well as an editorial published on Nov. 5 which deals with the same topic.

Among those who took to social media to rebuke Larsen for the photo was Bashir Mohamed, a 23-year-old Edmonton man who describes himself as an “active citizen.” Mohamed’s subsequent tweets raised questions about Diotte’s relationship with political commentator Faith Goldy, highlighting past social media posts the MP has made in support of her.

READ MORE: Edmonton MP threatens legal action against Twitter users over accusations made on social media

Listen below: Bashir Mohamed on The Ryan Jespersen Show

The Gateway reported that Larsen defended the tweet by saying he meets “with all sorts of political actors, Kerry Diotte being one of them.”

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“Although he has been a very controversial figure and has made some poor statements in the past, it is important I speak to him about student interests,” The Gateway quoted Larsen as saying.

Goldy is a former reporter for The Rebel. She was fired by the far-right online media outlet after appearing on The Daily Stormer, a Neo-Nazi podcast. She was also a candidate for mayor in Toronto’s recent municipal election.

Mohamed’s tweets referenced a pair of photos showing Diotte with Goldy in February 2017 and May 2016. In his tweets, he calls Diotte a racist. Mohamed told Global News last week that he received a notice from Diotte’s lawyer that said if the tweets listed in the letter weren’t retracted by 5 p.m. MST on Nov. 7, 2018, further legal action would be taken. On Monday, Mohamed said he still hadn’t received any further communication from Diotte or his lawyer.

Both of The Gateway articles include a note from the editor.

“A previous version of this article cited various comments from third parties accusing Kerry Diotte of being a racist, as well as explicitly supporting Faith Goldy,” reads the editor’s note in the article. “Subsequently, The Gateway was contacted by a representative of Mr. Diotte, who provided information indicating that the comments were untrue.

“On the basis of the information provided by Mr. Diotte, The Gateway retracts and apologizes for the comments, and has revised the editorial.”

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Both the article and the editorial were still online on Monday afternoon. Global News contacted the newspaper to request an interview and ask how the article and editorial had been altered.

In an email, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Oumar Salifou, said the newspaper could not comment until it had filed its statement of defence to the lawsuit. However, the newspaper did issue a statement.

The Gateway confirms that its legal counsel has received a statement of claim from Mr. Diotte’s legal counsel regarding two articles,” the statement says in part. “Following the receipt of a Defamation Act notice from Mr. Diotte, an editor’s note was added to both articles on Nov. 15, retracting the statements and apologizing.

The Gateway is in the process of reviewing the statement of claim.”

Global News has reached out to Diotte for comment on the legal action. In his Facebook post, Diotte says he is a free speech advocate but that he believes The Gateway crossed a line.

“As a former journalist of 30 years and an ex-national director of the Canadian Association of Journalists, I’m a strong defender of free speech,” the post says. “However, there are limits under Canadian law to free speech. For instance, it’s not permissible to state defamatory opinions as conclusive fact.

“Publications (printed or online) are also not allowed to repeat the unproven libellous comments of others. When they do, they themselves have committed libel,” the post goes on to say. “The Gateway management has refused to fully retract and apologize for its damaging articles. That’s all I had asked of them.”

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Diotte’s post goes on to say that if his lawsuit is successful, he plans on donating “net proceeds from any settlement to an Edmonton charity.”

In an email sent to Global News last week, Goldy said she doesn’t know Diotte personally and that she has only met him in passing at large Conservative events.

“I have never seen any indication in the MP’s work that he holds so-called racist views and for anyone to suggest as much is libellous,” her email said in part.

— With files from 630 CHED’s Cassandra Jodoin

You can read Diotte’s statement of claim in its entirety below.