Ontario PC leader slams Premier Kathleen Wynne's libel threat, calls it 'baseless'
Patrick Brown's lawyer argues comments 'were not defamatory,' says he won't stop holding Liberals accountable
Lawyers for Ontario's Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown fired back at Premier Kathleen Wynne's notice of libel saying his statements "were not defamatory" and he won't stop holding the Liberals accountable.
"Mr. Brown will not be distracted from his duty as Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition to speak publicly on issues of importance to the people of Ontario, especially where government ethics are concerned," wrote lawyer Jonathan Lisus of Lax, O'Sullivan, Lisus, Gottlieb LLP.
'Baseless attempts to silence' opposition
Wynne issued notice of a libel suit against her main political rival last week over comments he made suggesting she was on trial.
Brown was speaking to reporters at Queen's Park about the Sudbury byelection bribery scandal on Sept. 12 and said that Wynne may only provide answers "when she stands trial."
Within a few days, Wynne's lawyers called on Brown to apologize and retract the statement or she would "enforce her legal rights to the full extent of the law," threatening to file a defamation suit in court, but he declined.
Brown said he would "ignore her baseless legal threat."
You need not lecture Mr. Brown about document deletion and spoliation. Such comments are the height of the irony.- Jonathan Lisus, lawyer
Sending a notice of libel is a step required by Ontario's Libel and Slander Act before actually filing a defamation suit.
Provincial law required Wynne's lawyers to issue a libel notice within six weeks of the comments, making the deadline next Tuesday. The opposition leader received follow-up to the notice on Monday, to which Brown said his position is unchanged.
"Baseless attempts to silence the official opposition will be ignored, full-stop," he said in a statement.
In a letter sent to Wynne today, Brown's lawyer argued his statements "were not defamatory" and that "reasonable Ontarians understood them for exactly what they are — fair comment."
Pursue libel suit 'in short order': Brown's lawyer
Lisus went on to write that if Wynne intends on following through with her legal threat, she should do it sooner rather than later.
"If your client is determined to pursue a lawsuit, we should, in short order, agree on an expedited timetable for the exchange of pleadings, document production and examinations to ensure a public hearing as soon as possible," Lisus wrote.
Wynne's lawyers had also warned Brown to preserve all relevant documents related to the accusations in the case, including emails and recordings.
Baseless attempts to silence the official opposition will be ignored, full-stop.- Patrick Brown, PC leader
"Your stubborn refusal to retract your defamatory statements has exposed you to an award of aggravated and punitive damages," said Wynne's letter sent last Thursday.
Lisus dismissed it, calling this method of political posturing unnecessary.
"You need not lecture Mr. Brown about document deletion and spoliation. Such comments are the height of the irony," he wrote, referring to the two senior Liberal staffers from ex-premier Dalton McGuinty's office who are currently on trial over allegedly deleting documents.
"This letter shall serve as notice that your client, her advisors, the Liberal government and the Liberal party must preserve all of their communiciations and records," Lisus wrote.
Wynne files 2nd libel suit in office
This isn't the first time Wynne has sued her opponent on the heels of a provincial election.
In 2014, just before the last provincial election, Wynne sued then-PC leader Tim Hudak and MPP Lisa MacLeod over comments alleging that she had overseen "and possibly ordered" the criminal destruction of documents. The $2 million libel suit was eventually dropped in 2015.
The next provicial election is on June 7.
With files from CBC's Mike Crawley