Former Speaker Chris Collins claims he was victim of retaliation by Brian Gallant
Last year, Collins apologized in legislature for comments 'perceived as inappropriate'
A former Speaker of the New Brunswick legislature says he was the victim of harassment charges spurred on by former Premier Brian Gallant's desire to punish him for being too independent.
Chris Collins, the former Liberal MLA for Moncton Centre, says in a statement of claim filed in Court of Queen's Bench that the allegations by a staffer he calls Jane Doe were originally dismissed as unfounded by Gallant in 2016.
But he alleges that after he refused to do Gallant's bidding by letting a Liberal motion be debated in the legislature in February or March 2018, the accusation was revived and publicized to force him out.
"Mr. Collins was repeatedly told the premier was very mad about not being able to have this debated," says the 15-page statement of claim.
"During the last meeting with Mr. Collins, [staffer] Carl Davies threatened Mr. Collins by saying, 'the Premier's Office can make life very difficult for you.'"
Collins says Gallant knew "it was unlawful to collude with a complainant" about her complaint and to then publicize it.
In a statement Wednesday, Gallant said, "I look forward to the opportunity that the legal process will afford me to dispel false claims being made and to make public the relevant factors which impacted the decisions made in response to the actions of certain parties."
Davies said he would not comment on the allegations in the lawsuit.
The suit also names the government and the legislature as defendants, alleging that legislature clerk Don Forestell should not have "acquiesced" to Gallant's actions. Forestell refused to comment Wednesday.
On April 5, 2018, Gallant told reporters in an evening conference call that Collins had been suspended from the Liberal caucus over harassment allegations.
The complainant has never been identified publicly, though Collins's statement of claim says she had "a close, personal friendship with Premier Gallant."
Collins filed his notice of intent to sue Gallant and the province April 3, two days short of the legal deadline for him to take the case to court.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Gallant and the province have yet to file statements of defence in the lawsuit. The province will represent Gallant in the case because he was premier at the time.
Office of the Attorney-General spokesperson Paul Bradley said a statement of defence "is being finalized" and will be filed soon.
Collins is not suing for defamation but for breach of employment contract, breach of privacy and abuse of authority.
The night Gallant announced Collins's suspension, the then-premier said there had been "personality conflicts" between Collins and an employee of the legislature.
Collins gave up his functions as Speaker but kept the title.
His lawyer at the time, T.J. Burke, said in the days following the revelation that the harassment "did not occur."
But the following month the legislative administration committee, made up of MLAs from all parties, said an investigation by Leslie H. MacLeod, an adjunct professor at Osgoode Law School, concluded the allegations were "founded in part."
In the wake of that, Burke said Collins "accepts full responsibility for the findings that the investigator made in her report."
In July 2018, Collins apologized publicly with his wife Lisette Richard at his side. He called it a "complete and unreserved apology," though he said the "overwhelming majority" of the allegations against him had been deemed unfounded.
He said he had made comments to the employee that he considered "humorous and inoffensive" but that were "perceived as inappropriate."
77 of 80 allegations were deemed unfounded
In the new statement of claim, Collins elaborates that 77 of 80 allegations were deemed unfounded, while two instances of abuse of authority and one of harassment were deemed to have violated the harassment policy.
The investigation concluded the harassment allegation was founded "on the balance of probabilities," it says.
Collins's suspension from the Liberal caucus meant he was not allowed to run as a candidate for the party in his riding of Moncton Centre in that fall's provincial election. He ran as an independent against Rob McKee, who won by a wide margin.
According to the statement of claim, "Jane Doe" was working for Collins in August 2015 when she told a staffer for deputy premier Stephen Horsman about the alleged harassment.
Gallant's office looked into the allegation and "Premier Gallant advised Ms. Doe that her allegations against Mr. Collins had been looked into, were unfounded and without merit and that no further action would be taken."
Horsman and Gallant's acting chief of staff Greg Byrne both declined through a spokesperson to comment on the statement of claim Wednesday morning, as did McKee.
Jane Doe left her job at the legislature in January 2016, the claim says.
Two years later, it continues, Gallant's then-chief of staff, Jordan O'Brien, "aggressively pursued" getting Collins to let a motion to be introduced in the legislature that Collins says "was a breach of the rules of the House" and "constituted a personal attack" on a sitting MLA.
O'Brien refused to comment Wednesday on the narrative Collins lays out for 2018.
After Collins refused to allow the motion to go forward, the statement of claim says, Gallant's office brought the government's workplace harassment policy to the legislative administration committee to have it adopted as applying to members of the legislature.
According to the filing, Gallant then "encouraged" Jane Doe to file a complaint against Collins despite knowing it had been deemed unfounded two years earlier. It says the premier's office also persuaded her to let Gallant publicize the complaint despite confidentiality rules.
Complaint would 'go away'
Collins also claims he only learned of the complaint after Gallant's conference call with reporters on April 5 when he met three senior Liberals, including cabinet ministers Victor Boudreau and Serge Rousselle.
He says they told him the complaint would "go away" if he quit.
Boudreau and Rousselle refused to comment on that allegation Wednesday.
Collins also says Gallant persuaded him to allow the new harassment policy apply to the case, even though it did not apply retroactively to MLAs and even though the clerk of the legislature has the discretion to not investigate complaints more than a year old.
The statement of claim quotes a letter from deputy clerk Shayne Davies saying the investigation was in the public interest "given the public disclosure of a complaint" and a subsequent decision by the legislative administration committee to have it investigated.
The filing says a lawyer hired by the committee told its members that the seriousness of Collins's behaviour rated a one, on a scale of one to 10.