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Sam Merulla threatens libel action against resident

A Hamilton city councillor is threatening legal action against a resident who has publicly scrutinized his election expenses.
Coun. Sam Merulla is threatening legal action against Viv Saunders, a city hall watchdog he says libelled him in comments to a local news article. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

A Hamilton city councillor is threatening legal action against a resident who has publicly scrutinized his election expenses.

Sam Merulla of Ward 4 has served a libel notice against Viv Saunders, a Stoney Creek woman who applied to a city committee to have its members look into Merulla's expenses for the October municipal election.

In the letter, lawyer Douglas Burns says Merulla takes exception to comments Saunders made in a July 30 Hamilton Spectator article.

In the article, Saunders says she plans to pursue the matter of Merulla's expenses in court, despite an election compliance audit committee finding that Merulla didn't violate the elections act.

The comments "are understood to mean that…Merulla was and is involved in a conspiracy to deceive the public, misappropriate public monies for his own personal financial benefit and was and/or continuously is in non-compliance with the elections act," the notice reads.

The case stems from earlier this year, when Saunders, a financial planner, asked the city's election compliance audit committee to examine the expenses of Merulla and incumbent councillors Chad Collins, Doug Conley, Lloyd Ferguson, Tom Jackson, Robert Pasuta, Maria Pearson and Terry Whitehead.

The committee ruled that Merulla and Pearson didn't violate the Municipal Elections Act. The others committed a handful of violations, the committee ruled, but it deemed them minor, so it didn't order independent audits.

Saunders says she's dissatisfied with the ruling and the process around it, and is crowd funding under the Twitter and GoFundMe names candidate2court to raise money for legal costs to pursue the issue in court.

Under the Municipal Elections Act, campaign expenses are scrutinized on a complaint basis, and citizens use their own resources to pursue complaints.

As for Merulla, he warned through Burns's Aug. 14 letter that her comments were "made maliciously and without basis."

Burns directs Saunders in the letter to stop repeating or broadcasting the comments, and "clearly and unreservedly issue a retraction and an apology."

Merulla says that any punitive reward he gets will go to a scholarship fund for graduating high school students in Ward 4.

He also tweeted his frustration on Friday.

"Today I will be taking a moron to court," he said. "Stay tuned."

For her part, Saunders said she'd already filed appeals in regards to Jackson, Merulla, Pearson, Whitehead and Ferguson in court on Wednesday.

"My lawyer has reviewed the contents of the notice and at this time my course of action with respect to the appeal has not changed," she said.

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