Maxime Bernier has lost his libel fight against a controversial columnist who repeatedly described the leader of the People’s Party of Canada as racist, misogynist and anti-Semitic in the run-up to the 2019 federal elections.
His libel suit against political strategist and expert Warren Kinsella was thrown out of Ontario Superior Court on Wednesday.
Bernier had argued that his reputation was damaged by Kinsella, whom he accused of acting maliciously on behalf of Conservative Party operatives who had hired Kinsella’s company, Daisy Consulting Group, to dig up the filth of the fledgling People’s Party.
But while he said that some of Kinsella’s posts on social media and in major newspapers were clearly defamatory, Judge Calum MacLeod ruled that Bernier had not shown that the damage to his reputation outweighed the importance of protecting free speech in matters. of public interest.
Ontario has adopted legislation designed to discourage so-called SLAPP lawsuits, strategic lawsuits against public participation, which aim to limit freedom of expression.
Under that law, a plaintiff must prove that the damage to his reputation is such that the public interest in pursuing a defamation lawsuit outweighs the public interest in protecting freedom of expression. If that responsibility is not met, the claim must be dismissed.
MacLeod emphasized that he was ruling strictly on whether Bernier was fulfilling that responsibility, not on the substance of his complaint or on whether or not he is “a racist or any of the other epithets thrown at him.”
To ensure there could be no perception of “the court meddling in politics,” MacLeod said he delayed the publication of his ruling until after the September 20 federal election, in which Bernier’s party ranked a distant fifth. place with just under five percent of the vote and won no seats.
Bernier, a former Conservative cabinet minister, formed his own party after narrowly losing the Conservative leadership in 2017.
The Popular Party ran in 2019 on a platform that opposed what Bernier called “extreme multiculturalism” and advocated for cuts to immigration, positions that were widely condemned as frankly racist or, at the very least, accommodating to racists.
Bernier loses the libel fight against the columnist who called him a racist. #PPC #CDNPoli
MacLeod said Bernier also failed to meet the test that Kinsella did not have a justification defense that would have a reasonable chance of success if the defamation lawsuit proceeded.
“This is not a case of unsubstantiated ‘fake news’ in fact. Mr. Kinsella was basing his comments on actual positions taken by Mr. Bernier and on actual events,” MacLeod wrote in his ruling.
Kinsella was also not the only one to conclude that Bernier was racist and xenophobic or pandering to neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Such characterizations of Bernier “abound” in the mainstream media, added the judge.
“Mr. Kinsella may have approached his task with particular caustic enthusiasm, but at worst, Mr. Kinsella’s posts can be seen as a drop of vitriol in a sea of criticism.”
Bernier had alleged that “dirty tricks” launched by the Conservative Party, including the hiring of the Kinsella Daisy Group, cost him his Beauce seat in Quebec. But MacLeod said there is no evidence to suggest that Kinsella’s efforts caused such damage, noting that Bernier himself admitted that few of his constituents are likely to have read Kinsella’s broadside, written in English.
In a written statement, Kinsella welcomed the “significant” ruling.
“Bernier and his Popular Party have lost again,” he said. “We always trusted that the court would dismiss Bernier’s action, which was a clumsy attempt to silence dissent and legitimate criticism.”
Kinsella and Daisy Group attorney David Shiller called the ruling a victory for “journalists, writers and bloggers.”
“It means that those seeking high public office, like Bernier, cannot use defamation laws to try to silence and punish their critics.”
Shiller said his clients would seek compensation for their legal costs.
Kinsella has separately filed a defamation notice against Bernier and the Popular Party for alleging that he committed perjury.
During the election campaign earlier this fall, Bernier drew huge crowds with his opposition to vaccine mandates and other public health restrictions aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19. His supporters were prominent among the angry and profanity-spitting protesters who persecuted the campaign of the first Justin Trudeau.
Experts who follow hate groups have said that the anti-vaccination fringe has been infiltrated and exploited by white supremacists.
This Canadian Press report was first published on November 10, 2021.