Campaign volunteer says Coun. Van Meerbergen didn't know about smear website

The admission by a high school librarian that he paid for a website, on his own and without direction from candidate Paul Van Meerbergen, to attack Virginia Ridley, has raised more question in the simmering Blackridge Strategy scandal than it's answered.

'This was done completely outside of the Paul Van Meerbergen campaign' says Barry Phillips statement

The statement says Paul Van Meerbergen, who defeated Virginia Ridley in Ward 10, did not know about the smear website targeting her. (City of London)

The admission by a high school librarian that he paid for a website, on his own and without direction from candidate Paul Van Meerbergen, to attack Virginia Ridley, has raised more questions in the simmering Blackridge Strategy scandal than it's answered. 

Just before 7 p.m. Friday Barry Phillips, who worked as a volunteer on Van Meerbergen's campaign, issued a statement that said he commissioned Blackridge to create a webstie that addressed what he saw as ambiguities in Ridley's voting record on Bus Rapid Transit. 

You can read Phillips's statement below:

Barry Phillips, a volunteer on Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen's election campaign, issued a statement Friday. It says he acted alone when he commissioned Blackridge Strategy to target Van Meerbergen's main opponent and incumbent Virginia Ridley. (CBC )

"I wanted her voting record on BRT to be public knowledge," the statement says. 

But it goes on to say that Blackridge went beyond his wishes to keep its focus to Ridley's voting record on BRT. The website eventually created accused Ridley, the incumbent and Van Meerbergen's main opponent for the Ward 10 seat, of child abuse for bringing her child to a budget meeting. 

"The website was not what we agreed upon," Phillips says in his statement.

Phillips also said he paid for the website without Van Meerbergen knowing about it. 

"Paul Van Meerbergen had no knowledge of the creation of this website."

"I commissioned Blackridge Strategy on my own," the statement says. "This was done completely outside of the Paul Van Meerbergen campaign."

The statement also says he has since met with Ridley and discussed the website with her. 

CBC News reached out repeatedly to Van Meerbergen and Phillips on Friday, but neither have returned calls. 

Van Meerbergen denies knowing anything about the creation of the website, but said in a CTV interview that Blackridge offered attack ads similar to those that happen in provincial elections, and American-style negative campaigning, which Van Meerbergen said he declined.

But in an earlier interview with CBC News, Van Meerbergen made no mention of Blackridge offering any negative campaigns. In fact, asked by CBC News what he was offered, Van Meerbergen said the company created his website, managed his online presence, his Facebook page and did some "voice-mail drops." 

CBC News has reached out to Blackridge co-owners Jake Skinner and Amir Farahi and has not heard back. 

Kelly Phillips, who is Barry Phillips's wife and who donated $900 to Van Meerbergen's re-election campaign, refused to answer questions about the website on Friday. 

"I donated money to the campaign of someone that I thought was of value, it's just like any other person's campaign contribution," she said before hanging up. 

On May 30, a lawyer working for Ridley and Maureen Cassidy — who was targeted by a similar website but was re-elected — forced the disclosure of documents connected with the registration of the websites. 

Although he'd denied he was involved, the documents showed Amir Farahi's cellphone number and credit card were used to register the sites. 

Since that disclosure, a controversy involving Blackridge has enveloped city hall.

Blackridge did campaign work for a handful of candidates, including Mayor Ed Holder. Since the scandal broke, most candidates who used the company have said they won't again.

Rules under the Municipal Elections Act require anyone who is not a candidate who creates an advertisement that argues for or against a candidate must register as a third party. 

Neither Blackridge or its owners registered with the city clerk's office.

With files from CBC's Andrew Lupton


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