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Former London, Ont., councillor Virginia Ridley launches lawsuit over websites scandal

Undated photo of Virginia Ridley. via Virginia Ridley's Facebook in 2019

A defamation lawsuit filed on behalf of Virginia Ridley against Blackridge Strategy and others allegedly involved in the 2018 municipal election websites scandal is seeking $400,000 plus other damages.

A statement of claim obtained by Global News Friday alleges defamation over the contents of a website and Facebook page discovered Oct. 2, 2018. The allegations have not been proven in court.

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Amir Farahi and public school board trustee Jake Skinner, who co-owned Blackridge at the time (Skinner left the PR firm Jan. 3, 2020), are also listed as defendants, as are councillor Paul Van Meerbergen who defeated Ridley in the 2018 election and Barry Phillips, who worked on Van Meerbergen’s campaign.

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The statement also lists 2657259 Ontario Inc., or 265 Ontario, as a defendant, claiming that it “exists solely and secondarily” to Blackridge Strategy and that it is “being used as a shield for improper conduct and was incorporated for this improper purpose.”

The website, as well as one created in the name of Coun. Maureen Cassidy, were linked to Farahi through a disclosure from the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) obtained through a Superior Court order in May 2019, according to their lawyer Susan Toth at the time.

In June 2019, Phillips said he paid for the attack website on Virginia Ridley but is reported to have said the website was not what he and Blackridge had agreed upon. Van Meerbergen has repeatedly denied any involvement.

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According to the statement of claim, the website, virginiaridley.ca, and Facebook page titled Truth About Virginia Ridley accused her of child abuse for bringing her son to a lengthy budget meeting.

Ridley stressed to Global News back in Oct. 2018 that in that case, a meeting was scheduled on a Saturday and at the last minute her child care plans fell through. Since her youngest is on the autism spectrum, she said, getting someone new was out of the question. She added that there were several breaks throughout the day and that her child enjoyed the experience.

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The statement also claims the website and Facebook page accused her of being “anti-free Speech,” “a colossal spendthrift, greedy, irresponsible and simply unacceptable candidate for Ward 10,” and “profligate.”

The court filing argues that, as a result, Ridley has been “severely injured in her credit, character, and reputation” and that she has suffered professional damage as she has been unable to find employment as a child and youth worker.

“The lingering and enduring impact of the allegations … will follow her for the rest of her life,” the statement says.

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A lawyer for Skinner, Michael Lerner, told Global News he would not be providing comment as the matter is before the courts, but a notice of intent to defend has been filed.

Van Meerbergen emailed a statement to Global News confirming his intent to defend.

“In due course I will be delivering my statement of defence to this claim which will set out the particulars of why the claim against me has no merit,” he says.

“It is important to note that the claim contains allegations only that have not been proven.”

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As of publication time, Global News has not received a response from Farahi and Global News has been unable to reach Phillips.

— With files from Global News’ Sawyer Bogdan, Andrew Graham, and Matthew Trevithick

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