A Quebec-based mining firm is threatening legal action for defamation over comments made about the company, its board of directors — specifically Danny Williams — and the potential Muskrat Falls hydro project.
Toronto law firm Cassels Brock sent the Sierra Club of Canada a letter on May 15 on behalf of Alderon Iron Ore Corp. The letter insisted on a retraction of the comments, which were made by spokesman Bruno Marcocchio on VOCM’s Open Line radio show in April.
CBC News is not reporting on the exact nature of the comments for legal reasons.
Sierra Club says it will defend any lawsuit.
Williams, through a spokeswoman, declined comment. Alderon — which is working to develop the Kami project straddling the Quebec-Labrador border — did not respond to an email from CBC News.
Officials at Steele Communications, which runs VOCM, said they have yet to receive any of the legal documents in question, and declined comment at this time. VOCM Open Line host Randy Simms indicated he has never been notified of any legal action stemming from any conversation with Marcocchio.
Talk radio statements
In the May 15 letter obtained by CBC News, lawyers for Alderon point to a number of statements they consider to be "defamatory and libellous" made by Marcocchio.
They reference comments by Marcocchio on VOCM about a funding arrangement the company has purportedly proposed to the provincial government for the Muskrat Falls project. Alderon’s lawyers say the allegations "appear to be a complete fabrication" on the part of Marcocchio or the Sierra Club.
"The natural and ordinary meaning of these statements is that Alderon and/or its board of directors have entered into a deal for personal profit that is harmful to the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador," the letter noted.
In its response, Sierra Club executive director John Bennett apologized for and retracted Marcocchio’s use of one term that he conceded was "problematic."
But Bennett said other comments referenced by Alderon in its letter were not defamatory.
He noted that two of those comments were actually made not by Marcocchio, but instead by VOCM host Randy Simms.
Bennett cites a transcript attached to the original letter from Alderon’s lawyers to back up that contention.
Another of Marcocchio’s comments was accurate and fair, Bennett wrote.
In an interview with CBC News, Bennett said he was surprised to receive the letter from Alderon’s lawyers.
"We think that what we’ve been saying is fair comment — that the proposed financial arrangements for Muskrat Falls are unconventional," Bennett said.
"And, really, we were just agreeing with the Public Utilities Board of Newfoundland and Labrador, that said it does not have enough information to understand the financial implications of this project."
Asked why he believes Alderon sent the letter to the Sierra Club, Bennett cited "the mood across Canada" at the moment.
"It’s echoing what the federal government is doing, it’s trying to silence dissent. It doesn’t believe that we should have democratic rights in Canada, to speak out and talk about issues that affect our children and their children, and they believe that we should just shut up and go away. We’re not going to do that."
The letter to the Sierra Club was not the only one sent by Alderon’s lawyers.
Brad Cabana — who attempted unsuccessfully to run to replace Williams as provincial Tory leader, and currently pens a blog called Rock Solid Politics — also confirmed he is facing potential legal action.
"I have received a letter from Alderon and Danny Williams indicating they are requesting I retract comments made regarding financing of the Muskrat Falls project," Cabana said in an email to CBC News.
"My solicitor has the letter, and is currently giving it a detailed read. I will not be commenting publicly on it until I receive my solicitor's letter of response which should be by Monday at the latest."
Departure from politics
Williams announced a tentative deal to develop Muskrat Falls shortly before leaving politics in late 2010. He served as Newfoundland and Labrador’s premier for seven years.
Since leaving the premier’s office, Williams has embarked on a number of business ventures.
He launched the St. John’s IceCaps, an AHL hockey team he is leasing from the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets. He also announced plans to develop a large tract of land he owns in Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital city.
In January, Williams was named special advisor to Alderon’s chairman. In late March, he joined the mining company’s board of directors.
Alderdon’s Kami property is located next to the mining towns of Wabush, Labrador City and Fermont, Que.
The property includes 305 claims in Labrador and five Quebec mining titles for a total of 7,625 hectares.