Randy Hillier denies allegations from Ford’s chief of staff in defamation lawsuit

Ontario MPP Randy Hillier speaks to journalists in his office in the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO – A former Progressive Conservative caucus member is denying defamation allegations from Premier Doug Ford’s chief of staff, saying the official already had a “negative reputation” before a series of tweets in question.

Dean French has sued Randy Hillier, alleging that the politician tried to “destroy” French’s reputation after being kicked out of caucus. French alleges that shortly after being turfed from the Tory team, Hillier began a libellous and defamatory campaign against him, including a series of tweets that form the basis of the lawsuit.

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In a statement of defence, Hillier now says his removal from caucus was “mutual” and doesn’t hold a grudge against French.

“Mr. Hillier harbours no resentment, bitterness or malice to Mr. French or anyone over the fact that he is no longer a member of the PC caucus,” Hillier’s lawyer writes in the court document.

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Hillier posted a series of tweets alleging French was involved in criminality and misconduct in two leadership races, one in Alberta and one in Ontario, French’s lawyer said in his statement of claim. They were fabricated and completely unsupported allegations, lawyer Gavin Tighe writes. Hillier posted an apology, but French alleges it was inadequate.

French is seeking $100,000 in damages, which he said would be donated to Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Lanark County, in Hillier’s riding.

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Hillier is attempting to fight the lawsuit on a number of grounds, including that the tweets were “fair comment,” but says if the tweets are found to be defamatory then French is not entitled to damages.

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“Mr. Hillier pleads that Mr. French already had a negative reputation prior to the publication of the tweets, as set out above, and that the publication of the tweets did not lower or injure that reputation further to any extent,” Hillier’s lawyer writes.

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Media reports have portrayed French as “clamping down ‘on any semblance of dissent,’ assailing the competence of his colleagues, generally discouraging independent thought and possessing a mercurial temperament,” Asher Honickman writes.

French’s lawsuit alleges that he has suffered loss to his personal and professional reputation as a result of Hillier’s conduct. His lawyer said he is filing a reply to the statement of defence.

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In a reply filed Monday with the court, French’s lawyer argues that his client’s “purported management style” is irrelevant to the case, and Hillier’s reliance on “hearsay” about it in the statement of defence further aggravate French’s damages.

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

Hillier alleges that French’s lawsuit is meant to silence him and “insulate high-ranking government officials in the province of Ontario from criticism.”

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