Lawyers representing Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives served a notice on Thursday that they will “vigorously defend themselves” against a libel suit filed by Premier Kathleen Wynne.

The suit, filed earlier this month, stems from opposition leader Tim Hudak’s statements alleging that Wynne “oversaw and possibly ordered the criminal destruction of documents” stored on hard drives related to the $1.1-billion cancellation of two gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga, Ont., in 2011.

In the notice of intent to defend, lawyers for the opposition said that they don’t believe any comments made by members of the Progressive Conservatives at press conferences or online “constitute actionable defamation” of Wynne.

It goes on to say that all the comments were “clearly within the recognized privileges protecting freedom of speech particularly where it concerns matters of public importance within a necessary and vital public debate.”

Wynne claimed in an open letter on March 30 that Hudak knew his allegations were false and unsupported by evidence and demanded he apologize publicly.

The Tories have claimed previously that the plan to wipe hard drives in the premier’s office happened while Wynne was premier-designate of Ontario. Wynne has denied she had any knowledge of the alleged document deletions, and that any inconsistencies occurred under the leadership of Dalton McGuinty.

Provincial police have alleged that McGuinty’s former chief of staff, David Livingston, gave an external software expert access to the hard drives of 24 computers in the premier’s office.

Police have only been able to successfully recover data from four of the 24 hard drives, which were accessed with a special password on Feb. 6 and Feb. 7, 2011. Wynne became premier on Feb. 11.

Police are unable to say yet whether any of the hard drives were accessed using the special password after Feb. 11. 

With files from The Canadian Press