Union alleges grocery store worker swiped data in 'spiteful' defamation campaign

The union for B.C. grocery store employees is accusing a Vancouver worker of unlawfully breaching a membership database in a campaign to spread “hatred, ridicule and contempt” of the leadership.

United Food and Commercial Workers says an Urban Fare employee then sent false information to members

Jason Buckle works at Urban Fare in Vancouver's Yaletown neighbourhood, and has yet to respond to the allegations. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

The union for B.C. grocery store employees is accusing a Vancouver worker of unlawfully breaching a membership database in a campaign to spread "hatred, ridicule and contempt" of the leadership.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 1518 (UFCW) filed a lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court in September, naming Yaletown Urban Fare employee Jason Buckle and 10 unnamed John Does as defendants.

According to the union's statement of claim, those involved "have engaged in a campaign of vilification of the plaintiffs for the predominant purpose of destroying, diminishing or undermining their reputation and thereby lowering them in the estimation of members of UFCW 1518 and others; and causing members … and others to shun or avoid the plaintiffs and to regard them with hatred, ridicule and contempt."

The union alleges Buckle and/or the unnamed defendants accessed the UFCW membership database on Dec. 5, 2017, and "unlawfully and surreptitiously damaged [it] … by unsubscribing approximately 700 union members."

Buckle and the other defendants are accused of downloading the contents of the entire database, and using the contact information to distribute "defamatory expression" about the union and its president, Ivan Limpright, secretary-treasurer, Kim Novak, and executive assistant to the president, Patrick Johnson.

The statement of claim does not indicate why the union suspects Buckle, and none of the allegations have been proven in court.

Buckle still works at the Urban Fare in Yaletown, and told CBC he could not comment on the suit. He has yet to file a response to the claim.

A UFCW media representative said she couldn't comment on the suit while it's before the courts, or reveal whether union members have been informed of the alleged database breach.

According to the claim, the 700 union members who were allegedly wiped from the database did not receive any UFCW emails between Dec. 5, 2017 and June 8, 2018.

Allegations of a forged letter

The union's lawsuit accuses Buckle and the other defendants of registering a website and setting up three email addresses to spread defamatory allegations about "backroom dealing" during the union's collective bargaining with Safeway.

It also accuses the defendants of forging a letter from UFCW leadership to Safeway's vice-president of labour relations, alleging that union leaders accepted a secret bribe of $5.9 million to agree to an unfavourable collective agreement.

The union alleges a forged letter was sent to employees at grocery stores across B.C. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

The letter was then allegedly faxed to several Save-on-Foods, Sobeys and Safeway stores, and emailed to all UFCW members on July 29, 2018. The allegedly forged letter is still available in a publicly accessible Google Drive file online.

The union accuses Buckle and the other defendants of making repeated online posts about the letter over the space of about six days last summer.

"The defendants were each motivated in publishing the defamatory expression … by actual and express malice, which increased the injury to the plaintiffs and by increasing the mental distress and humiliation of the plaintiffs Limpright, Novak and Johnson," the claim alleges.

Union asks for injunction and damages

Apart from the emails, faxes and online posts, the lawsuit also alleges the defendants made a series of phone calls to Johnson's wife, falsely claiming Johnson and Novak were having an affair.

The union is seeking general, aggravated, special and punitive damages for loss of income, injury to reputation, pride and self-confidence, emotional distress — among other alleged harms.

"The defendants have each been guilty of reprehensible, insulting, high-handed, spiteful, malicious and oppressive conduct towards the plaintiffs," the suit reads.

The claim also asks for an injunction preventing Buckle and the other defendants from further publication of the allegedly defamatory material, orders to remove that information from the internet and an order to return the allegedly stolen database information.

To date, B.C. Supreme Court justices have approved three orders related to the case, including a demand for surveillance video from a Burnaby Safeway store and a request for Google to hand over subscriber information for email addresses allegedly used by the defendants.

CBC has emailed each of those addresses asking for comment, but no one has responded.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay has more than a decade of experience in B.C. journalism, with a focus on the courts, health and social justice issues. She has also reported on human rights and crimes against humanity in Cambodia. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.