Nova Scotia

Halifax fire bosses sue online critics

Two senior Halifax fire officials are suing seven people who commented on an online news story alleging racism in the fire department.
Seven defendants have been named in a statement of claim filed by two senior Halifax fire officials. ((Mari Ito/CBC))
Two senior Halifax fire officials are suing seven people who commented anonymously on an online news story about alleged racism in the fire department.

Fire Chief Bill Mosher and Stephen Thurber, the deputy chief of operations, filed a statement of claim in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Wednesday.

They claim they were defamed by two current employees of the Halifax regional fire service, two former firefighters and three others who commented on a local newspaper's website.

The defendants named in the statement of claim are:

  • Blair Cromwell
  • Wayne Chapdelaine
  • William Murphy
  • Donald Snider
  • Jennifer Williamson
  • Betty Raymond
  • Armando Raymond

Mosher and Thurber learned the identities of the seven people after getting court orders for information against the weekly newspaper and two internet service providers.

The Coast published the article about the fire department in April 2009 after two black firefighters filed complaints with the provincial human rights commission alleging racism. Over the course of several months, dozens of commenters responded to the online version of the story.

Mosher and Thurber claim some of the anonymous posts contained allegations of racism, cronyism and incompetence. They went to court to have the commenters unmasked, arguing they needed to know their identities to defend themselves.

In April, a judge ordered the Coast to release any information that could identify the commenters, known under names such as "The truth" and "in the know," including log-in information and computer IP addresses.

Mosher and Thurber later obtained a court order requiring Bell Aliant and EastLink, two internet service providers, to hand over whatever identifying information they had.

Michelle Awad said her clients are seeking general and punitive damages as well as court costs. ((CBC))
The pair's lawyer, Michelle Awad, said her clients are seeking general and punitive damages as well as court costs. She said no amount has been named and it would be up to a jury — if the case goes to court — to decide the amount of damages.

"Many cases settle, several go to court. It's tough to predict at this early stage," she told CBC News on Thursday.

'No idea' about accusations: defendant

When CBC News reached one of the defendants — Betty Raymond of Bear River — on Thursday, she said she had received no court documents and only knew about the lawsuit because members of the media had contacted her.

"My name is hooked up or linked up to a lawsuit or something like that?" she said. "I have no idea what they're talking about."

She said another named defendant — Armando Raymond of Bear River — was her husband. Armando Raymond died in September 2005.

"I thought, 'Oh my gosh, poor man is gone five years ago and he's going to have to go to court for something that we don't even know anything about,'" she said. "I really don't know what all this is about."

Raymond said she stays in Bear River during the summer months and lives in the U.S. the rest of the time. She said she uses her computer to pay bills and contact her children through Facebook.

Awad said she did not know anything about the defendants other than what was in the statement of claim.

"We've specified what we know about them in terms of their occupations and residences," she said. "Beyond that, the court process will allow us to learn more about them."

The allegations have not been proven in court.

No statement of defence has been filed.