London

Blackridge ordered to reveal who paid for smear websites

An Ontario Superior Court judge has ordered public relations firm Blackridge Strategy to reveal the identity of the individual or organization who hired them to create two smear websites. Blackridge says they will turn over the information.

A Superior Court judge ordered the PR firm to name whoever paid to target Maureen Cassidy and Virginia Ridley

Blackridge Strategy has been ordered to identify who hired them to create websites that smeared female candidates in London's municipal election campaign. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

An Ontario Superior Court judge has ordered public relations firm Blackridge Strategy to reveal the identity of the individual or organization who hired them to create two smear websites during the last municipal election that targeted female candidates.

Negative campaign websites using the names of two city councillors seeking re-election were created by the firm. Despite intense public pressure, Blackridge has refused to name the client. 

The women in question, Coun. Maureen Cassidy and former councillor Virginia Ridley, decided to take legal action, pushing for accountability, after the sites called out their integrity, their honesty and their parenting skills.

They hired London lawyer Susan Toth to fight to get documents to show who was behind the websites that they say caused them distress and anguish. An application was filed on behalf of Cassidy and Ridley on Aug. 27.

Virginia Ridley and Maureen Cassidy hired London lawyer Susan Toth to reveal who was behind smear websites created during the 2018 municipal election. (Supplied)

On Friday, Justice Alissa Mitchell ordered Blackridge Strategy to produce all documents and information regarding the identity and contact information for the individual(s) or organizations who hired the firm to engage in negative campaigning against the Cassidy and Ridley.

"I think it's safe to say we're quite pleased," said Toth.

"This has been a long road for my clients and initially this was all about lifting the veil of anonymity from the Internet, and then it became a situation where we wanted to ensure that people wouldn't be able to hide behind a third party or a PR firm without being held accountable."

Blackridge Strategy says they will comply with the order.

"Absolutely. We respect and obey the law," said Laura Blondeau, Blackridge Strategy's communications director in an emailed statement.

The next steps

Once the order is served, Blackridge is expected to turn over all of the related documents within a timely manner.

"We would hope for that information to come out quickly," said Toth. "And then we'll be meeting with my clients and determining what they would like to do with that information."

Toth says knowing who hired the firm to create the site might be enough, or civil action may be pending.

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