NewLeaf sues consumer advocate Gabor Lukacs, alleging defamation
Discount travel operator accuses Lukacs of 'unrelenting, aggressive and malicious attack'
Discount flight company NewLeaf Travel is suing air passenger advocate Gabor Lukacs, accusing him of defamation through what it calls an "unrelenting, aggressive and malicious attack" on social media.
The Winnipeg-based company, which sells low-cost flights operated by B.C.-based Flair Airlines, filed a statement of claim with the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench on July 15.
The claim alleges Lukacs, who has publicly raised concerns about the company's business model, started publishing "false and/or misleading" information around the time NewLeaf started taking flight reservations on June 24.
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"The defendant has instituted an unrelenting, aggressive and malicious attack targeted at NewLeaf and at NewLeaf's potential and existing customers in particular through false and/or misleading information posted largely through social media," part of the statement of claim reads.
NewLeaf is seeking an unspecified amount in damages for defamation, injurious falsehood, intentional interference with economic relations, and false and/or negligent misrepresentation.
It also wants a permanent injunction ordering Lukacs "to refrain from persisting in posting, publishing or otherwise communicating said false and misleading statements concerning NewLeaf," according to the statement of claim.
Lukacs told CBC News he cannot comment on the lawsuit because he has not been served with NewLeaf's statement of claim.
"I am quite troubled by what transpires as the media appearing to know more than me. One is left wondering about the true purpose and motive of what transpires as litigation by media," he wrote in an email Friday from Prague, where he was attending an academic symposium on mathematics.
NewLeaf had hoped to begin operations in January, but the Canadian Transportation Agency was in the middle of conducting a review of the licensing requirements of indirect air service carriers like NewLeaf.
As a result of the delay, NewLeaf refunded all tickets sold and suspended operations until it could sort out the regulatory issues.
In March, the CTA cleared the way for NewLeaf by announcing that resellers — companies like NewLeaf that purchase seats from an air carrier and resell them to the public — don't have to hold their own air licences. Flair Airlines is a licensed carrier.
Flights sold by NewLeaf began operating this week.
In June, the Federal Court of Appeal agreed to hear an appeal by Lukacs regarding whether the CTA has the authority to permit NewLeaf to operate without a licence.
The court likely won't hear the appeal until at least the fall. Lukacs filed an injunction motion last week asking the court to require NewLeaf to put up $3.7 million in financial security.
"I spoke to NewLeaf's lawyer earlier this week about the motion for the injunction pending before the Federal Court of Appeal but he did not mention any lawsuit against me, which makes me wonder about the whole affair," Lukacs wrote.
Twitter, Facebook posts
Lukacs, who is based in Halifax, has used Twitter and Facebook to question the viability and legality of NewLeaf's business model. He has urged NewLeaf to ensure passengers' tickets are honoured if the company folds.
The company's statement of claim centres on 16 tweets, one Facebook post and one media report in which Lukacs was quoted.
All of the tweets cited in the claim were visible on his Twitter account, Air Passenger Rights, as of Friday. Some refer to accusations that NewLeaf owes more than $130,000 in unpaid bills to two consultants.
NewLeaf's statement of claim alleges Lukacs's claims are understood to mean that the company is operating illegally, has not received regulatory approval to operate as a reseller, is presenting itself as an air carrier and is insolvent or will become insolvent, among other things.
Here are some of the tweets that NewLeaf alleges are defamatory, according to the company's statement of claim:
1/3 <a href="https://twitter.com/natemapp">@natemapp</a> NewLeaf has to get a licence as everyone else does, because that is the law in Canada. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Dont?src=hash">#Dont</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoNewLeaf?src=hash">#GoNewLeaf</a>—@AirPassRightsCA
1. To the bank, to pay your unpaid bills.<br>2. Back to the CTA, to get a licence.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Dont?src=hash">#Dont</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoNewLeaf?src=hash">#GoNewLeaf</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TWWT?src=hash">#TWWT</a> <a href="https://t.co/JUHqkJVIuF">https://t.co/JUHqkJVIuF</a>—@AirPassRightsCA
Do not take your business to a company with unpaid bills.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Dont?src=hash">#Dont</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoNewleaf?src=hash">#GoNewleaf</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TWWT?src=hash">#TWWT</a> <a href="https://t.co/cRqXnFlyuM">https://t.co/cRqXnFlyuM</a>—@AirPassRightsCA
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With files from Jeannie Lee