Maxime Bernier's defamation lawsuit against political pundit dismissed by Ontario court
Bernier said comments describing him as a racist damaged his reputation during 2019 election
A defamation lawsuit launched by People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier against an outspoken political commentator and strategist has been dismissed by an Ontario court.
Bernier had been attempting to sue Warren Kinsella over comments that painted the PPC leader as a racist, misogynist and antisemitic prior to the 2019 federal election.
Bernier says those descriptions damaged his reputation and subjected him to public scandal and embarrassment.
In a ruling published on Wednesday, Ontario Superior Court Justice Calum MacLeod dismissed the lawsuit because he said Kinsella would likely have been able to mount a valid defence for his criticisms.
The judge also said any harm caused to Bernier did not outweigh the importance of freedom of expression when discussing politicians and political parties in the public sphere.
Bernier v. Kinsella et al. judgment here: WE WON! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/cdnpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#cdnpoli</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/ShillersLLP?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ShillersLLP</a> <a href="https://t.co/jYOboT9lyq">https://t.co/jYOboT9lyq</a>—@kinsellawarren
In an interview with CBC News in October, Bernier expressed confidence that his case would succeed.
"Kinsella said that I said that I was a racist and a Nazi and I'm suing him for discrimination. And I will have that decision and I can tell you that it will be positive in our favour," he said on Oct. 6.
Kinsella's consulting firm Daisy Group was hired to "seek and destroy" the PPC in the run-up to the 2019 federal election, according to documents seen by CBC News.
A source with knowledge about the project said Kinsella was hired by the Conservative Party of Canada, which wanted to discredit the PPC before its first election as a registered party. Kinsella has not confirmed any direct involvement with the Conservatives and says instead that he was hired by CPC sympathizers.
The PPC failed to win a seat in the 2019 election, capturing 1.6 per cent of the national vote. The party also did not win a seat in the 2021 election, though its share of the popular vote grew to 4.9 per cent.
In his 19-page written decision, Justice MacLeod said Kinsella's comments about Bernier and the PPC on social media, in blog posts and on his personal website did not meet the high threshold required to qualify as defamation of a political leader.
Kinsella accused Bernier and the PPC of promoting racism, antisemitism and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. He also compared Bernier to then-U.S. President Donald Trump and to David Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
MacLeod acknowledged that Kinsella used distasteful and extreme language, but ultimately found the criticisms to be valid and grounded in fact.
"Mr. Kinsella was basing his comments on actual positions taken by Mr. Bernier," MacLeod wrote.
MacLeod also noted that Bernier and the PPC were being widely criticized within Canadian political discourse during the 2019 election.
"Widespread characterization of Mr. Bernier and the PPC as racist and xenophobic or at least as pandering to those elements of the political spectrum was rife in the media. Comparisons with Donald Trump, [pro-Brexit politician] Nigel Farage or [far-right French politician] Marine LePen were widespread," MacLeod wrote.
"Mr. Kinsella may have approached his task with particular caustic enthusiasm, but, at worst, Mr. Kinsella's postings can be seen as a drop of vitriol in a sea of criticism."
With files from The Canadian Press