Ottawa

Constituents sue George Darouze for defamation

Coun. George Darouze is being sued for defamation and breach of privacy in small claims court by the same Osgoode couple who filed an official complaint with the integrity commissioner about him last year.

Osgoode couple who filed complaint about councillor last year follow up with lawsuit

Osgoode Coun. George Darouze listens during a committee meeting on May 10, 2019. (Laura Osman/CBC)

Coun. George Darouze is being sued for defamation, breach of privacy and other costs in small claims court by the same Osgoode couple who filed an official complaint with the integrity commissioner about him last year.

In September 2019, Darouze became the city's first-ever elected official to be found guilty of contravening the councillor code of conduct by the integrity commissioner since that office was created in 2012.

The councillor was found to have acted in an "unjustified and excessive" manner when he tried to silence a woman who criticized him on social media during the 2018 municipal election by writing to her husband's boss, the chief of police.

Integrity commissioner Robert Marleau's report called Darouze's version of events "not credible" and said the major motivation behind his letter-writing "was to bully and intimidate" the complainants and "cause grief" for the police officer at work.

Although the integrity commissioner keeps the names of complainants confidential, the suit identifies them as Kristen and Reinhard Lechleitner. Reinhard Lechleitner has been an officer with the Ottawa Police Service for more than a decade.

The Lechleitners are seeking $32,500 in damages, arguing that the councillor's actions have damaged their reputations in the community and, for Reinhard Lechleitner, at his workplace.

Kristen Lechleitner confirmed to CBC she served Darouze with the suit last Friday, but declined any further comment. Darouze also declined to comment for this article.

George Darouze speaks at an all-candidates debate on Sep. 13, 2018. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Chief forwarded councillor's complaint

The entire affair stems from a social media post two years ago.

After a September 2018 all-candidates debate, Kristen Lechleitner disagreed on an Osgoode village Facebook group with some of Darouze's claims that he had been responsible for certain improvements to local policing.

It was highly unusual that a complaint would be made against an officer for a spouse exercising her constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression.- Reinhard Lechleitner, Ottawa Police officer

Darouze replied on Facebook, accusing her of "spreading fears" and posting "incorrect information." He asked to meet with her and her "inside source family member" — namely, her husband, the police officer.

The next day, Darouze wrote to Charles Bordeleau, then Ottawa's chief of police, accusing Kristen Lechleitner of using "scare tactics" to upset the community, and further suggesting Bordeleau look into whether "her husband is relaying incorrect information to her to scare the public."

Bordeleau did forward Darouze's email to the appropriate inspector and staff sergeant on Oct. 4. 

Reinhard's supervisors eventually found the officer had not only done nothing wrong, but that everything Kristin Lechleitner had written publicly on Facebook was accurate. 

In his statement to the court, Reinhard Lechleitner said: "It was highly unusual that a complaint would be made against an officer for a spouse exercising her constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression."

Ongoing repercussions, couple claims

Even though Reinhard Lechleitner was told no further action would be taken against him, the couple contends that the Darouze incident has had ongoing repercussions for them.

"His labelling of my spouse and I as misinformed liars has an impact on our reputation across the Ward, nevermind the impact at my workplace in the eyes of those who are unfamiliar with me but may have become aware of the (false) accusations that were made by Darouze," according to Reinhard Lechleitner's statement.

The officer wrote that he has stopped applying for other jobs within the police department "until this matter is fully resolved."

The statement goes on to say that Kristen Lechleitner was discouraged from volunteering with the local community association.

"As the organization has regular interaction with local politicians, it was recommended that she not participate as it could jeopardize the support and funding the organization receives," according to her husband's statement.

Coun. George Darouze is the first councillor found to have violated the code of conduct after he wrote Ottawa's former police chief in an effort to silence a public critic. (Joanne Chianello/CBC)

Breach of privacy, time lost

The couple is claiming damages not just for alleged harm to their personal and professional reputations, but for breach of privacy and "time as a resource."

Because Kristen Lechleitner uses her maiden name on social media, the couple says the "vast majority" of people in the community didn't know she was married to a local police officer until Darouze publicly discussed it. For that reason, they argue the councillor breached their privacy.

They also argue that they should be compensated for the "numerous hours" it took to research and file their grievance, including completing forms and being interviewed by Marleau and his investigators.

According to the statement, the couple is suing for $30,000 because that's about the equivalent of 90-days' pay for a councillor — the maximum amount that a councillor's pay can be docked for contravening the code of conduct  — plus $2,500 in additional costs.

While Darouze was formally sanctioned by council in September 2019 — a formality that means council agreed the Osgoode councillor contravened their code of conduct — no other penalty was recommended by Marleau or discussed by council.

Instead, Darouze had to write the couple an apology and ask the chief to remove the incident from Reinhard Lechleitner's employee file. The councillor has done so, and emailed the couple in September that he was "truly sorry" that they "perceived" his actions as harassment.

This clearly hasn't sat well with the Lechleitners.

"Given that the Integrity commissioner has found that Darouze felt he had done nothing wrong and had show no remorse for his actions, we were somewhat disappointed with the outcome," according to the couple's statement.

"For attempting to stifle my wife's right to freedom of opinion, Darouze simply had to write two brief emails, including one in which he again hints that having done nothing wrong, and endure a short time of bad press in the local media."

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