Ward 3 candidate threatened with defamation lawsuit after tweeting CBC report

Dunpar Homes Ltd., an Etobicoke based townhouse builder, is threatening to sue Toronto council Ward 3 candidate Pamela Gough, alleging she defamed the developer by tweeting and commenting on a CBC News report. Gough is running against incumbent Mark Grimes.

'I was very surprised, I was very taken aback,' Pamela Gough says

Pamela Gough was recently threatened with legal action after tweeting a link to a CBC Toronto report. (Gary Asseltine/CBC News)

Dunpar Homes Ltd. is threatening to sue Toronto council Ward 3 candidate Pamela Gough, alleging she defamed the developer by recently posting a pair of tweets relating to a CBC Toronto investigative report.

Gough is running in Etobicoke-Lakeshore Ward 3 against Mark Grimes — one of the councillors named in the report.

"I was very surprised, I was very taken aback," she said about receiving a letter from Dunpar's lawyer.

"I was speaking openly about a matter that's on the public record,"  she said, describing her tweets.

The investigative report was published in February, and revealed Ontario Provincial Police were reviewing claims Grimes and fellow Etobicoke councillor Justin Di Ciano may have benefited from about $40,000 in polling and research paid for by Dunpar.

In the report, both councillors and Dunpar's president John Zanini, denied any wrongdoing.

Developer has never complained to CBC

Since it was published, none of those named in the report has reached out to CBC News to complain about the report. None has threatened CBC News with legal action over it either.

Gough's lawyer Phil Trotter says that could be telling.

"If they really thought there was a problem with the article, they would have gone to the CBC," he said.

Gough said she was concerned for her campaign volunteers, so she agreed to Dunpar's demands to delete the first tweet, which linked to the CBC Toronto report, and a second tweet in which she accused the two politicians of alleged wrongdoing.​

Police are looking into whether Coun. Mark Grimes, right, as well as another Etobicoke councillor benefited from polling work paid for by Dunpar Homes Ltd., the company run by developer John Zanini, left.

Gough also agreed to apologize to Dunpar and its president, posting she was sorry her "use of words and a reference to a CBC article led them to feel offended…"

Gough says her tweets were solely intended to refer to Grimes and Di Ciano.

"We're right in the middle of an election campaign," she said. "And there is intense engagement between the voter and the candidates.

"There should be no sense of intimidation because a candidate is talking openly about articles that are freely available to the public." 

Trotter called Dunpar's allegation of defamation unfounded. Still, the possibility of being sued might weigh heavily on a candidate and a volunteer election staff, he says.

"It might be something they have to deal with even though it has little merit, but ultimately I told them, 'That's the game of politics and law,'" Trotter said.

"She has a very, very strong defence and I don't think the claim would go very far," he added,

Neither Grimes nor Di Ciano apparently complained to Gough about the tweet, Trotter noted.

CBC article is 'false,' lawyer claims

But on Sept. 21, Dunpar's lawyer Stephen Schwartz emailed Gough's campaign.

"You communicated publicly, through Twitter, multiple posts and comments, a false article by CBC news concerning our clients. In doing so, you provided a further platform for the article," Schwartz wrote.

"Your statements concerning our clients are defamatory. It caused harm to our clients' well earned reputation," the email said. 

In addition, Schwartz took issue with Gough's tweets that the councillors may have done something wrong.

Schwartz says the tweets were "false and unsubstantiated," and if Gough didn't retract her comments, she and some of her campaign team would be sued, Schwartz claimed.

"We trust that our clients' position is clear," he wrote.

Schwartz did not reply to questions from CBC Toronto. He has not specified on what grounds he is alleging the report was "false."

Investigation 'active and ongoing,' OPP says

As of last week, the OPP's anti-rackets unit was still looking into the polling allegations.

"The investigation is still active and ongoing," OPP Staff Sergeant Carolle Dionne told CBC Toronto.   

The probe originally began as an internal investigation launched by the city's integrity commissioner, who had received an unrelated complaint regarding Di Ciano's campaign finances.

The integrity commissioner asked Toronto police to look into information she uncovered during her investigation.

Instead, Toronto police turned the information over to the OPP to avoid any perceived conflict of interest, as Toronto councillors set the Toronto police budget.

The OPP then uncovered information relating to the $40,000 polling and research that may have benefited Grimes and Di Ciano.

No charges have been laid.

Local animal hospital apologizes to Grimes for tweeting CBC story

Mark Grimes campaign supporter and volunteer replies to apology

Separately, on Oct. 1, the Long Branch Animal Centre also posted an apology to Grimes after posting a link to a CBC Toronto report.

"Apologies to Mark Grimes for retweeting an old CBC article that is no longer relevant." their account reads.

"Please disregard," it continued.

"Mark Grimes was neither sanctioned nor penalized as a result of the accusations".

When CBC Toronto reached out to the animal hospital, a nervous sounding individual said they were aware of the apology but declined to offer any further comment. The individual wouldn't say why the apology was posted, or if anyone had asked for the apology.

Grimes declined an interview request to discuss the mater. In an email, he stated he didn't ask the animal hospital for the apology or threaten legal action.

"I have not served legal notices or threatened to take legal action against anyone on this matter. I'm focused on meeting as many Etobicoke-Lakeshore residents as possible and delivering a positive election platform that protects our community's best interests," Grimes wrote in an email.

About the Author

John Lancaster

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

John Lancaster is a senior reporter with CBC News focusing on investigative and enterprise journalism. He is a life long resident of Toronto but his stories have taken him across Canada, the US and the Caribbean. His work appears on CBC Toronto, The National and CBC's Marketplace-and of course CBC online and radio. Drop him a line anytime at john.lancaster@cbc.ca.