A local MP made another trip to the Barrie courthouse yesterday.
Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MP Alex Nuttall filed a new defamation lawsuit against Coun. Keenan Aylwin on Thursday, with Barrie-Innisfil MP John Brassard following suit to amend his own claim.
A controversial Facebook post made by Aylwin in March, which has also led to an integrity-commissioner investigation at city hall, is at the heart of both lawsuits.
The lawsuits are identical, each seeking $100,000 in damages.
Both Conservative MPs are being represented by Joshua Valler of Barriston LLP.
“(Nuttall) did refile yesterday,” Valler said on Friday in an interview with BarrieToday. “There are some changes that have been made to the statement of claim by Mr. Nuttall. The relief he’s seeking is the same, but some of the circumstances supporting his claim have changed.”
Valler wouldn’t discuss why Nuttall chose to refile or why Brassard had opted to amend.
“I’m not going to get into the motives. He’s elected to continue with the claim. He’s looking forward to clearing his reputation and remedying the damages that have been caused by the comments,” said Valler. “It’s inappropriate to comment on an ongoing civil litigation matter, especially one as high profile as this.”
On March 21, Aylwin made a post on his public Facebook page concerning the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
“... We have to talk about the white supremacy problem we have in this country and in this community,” he wrote.
Aylwin referenced the white supremacist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. He said there are people in positions of power in Canada using racist and white supremacist rhetoric for political gain in Canada, and urged readers to make connections between that rhetoric and violence.
“We have two Conservative MPs in Barrie that have been silent on their leader’s appearance on the same stage as a neo-Nazi sympathizer, Faith Goldy, at United We Roll Rally. This is unacceptable and it is dangerous. They are playing footsies with white supremacists who have inspired violence through Yellow Vest Canada social media channels and elsewhere,” wrote Aylwin, continuing to urge Brassard and Nuttall to denounce white supremacy and offer an apology.
Almost immediately afterward, Brassard filed a complaint with the City of Barrie’s integrity commissioner.
According to the amended statement of claim in Brassard’s lawsuit, the MP is seeking $50,000 in general damages, $25,000 in aggravated damages and $25,000 in punitive damages. Nuttall is seeking the same.
They are also asking the immediate removal/deletion of the social-media postings and to be awarded costs.
At the heart of the statement of claim is Brassard and Nuttall’s complaint that Aylwin’s statement is implying they are racist, their behaviours will inspire violence, they support the use of racist rhetoric and the behaviour of white supremacists, they support violence against vulnerable groups and they have caused harm.
One of the key differences in the original lawsuits and the refiled and amended versions is the addition of a claim that at no time did the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada share the stage with a white supremacist.
“The plaintiff (Brassard) pleads that, as a result of the posting, his personal and professional reputation have suffered; The plaintiff has been brought into ridicule, scandal and contempt both personally and by way of his profession as the Member of Parliament for Barrie-Innisfil. The plaintiff’s livelihood has been threatened and he has suffered damages as a result,” reads Brassard’s amended statement of claim.
A statement of defence on both lawsuits has not been filed.
Brassard issued a news release on Thursday, sharing the recent City of Barrie integrity-commissioner ruling which determined Aylwin had breached the city's Code of Conduct in the post.
“While it is unwise for the integrity commissioner to intervene to referee political debate through a Code complaint investigation, in the circumstance of this complaint, the respondent councillor (Aylwin) did denigrate and call into question the actions of a Member of Parliament for Barrie-Innisfil in his statements in the March 21 Facebook post,” wrote integrity commissioner Suzanne Craig in her ruling.
Brassard referred to Craig's ruling in his news release.
“I am thankful for commissioner Craig’s report, the seriousness with which she dealt with this matter and her findings that Coun. Keenan Aylwin violated the city’s Code of Conduct with his baseless, repugnant and vile posting,” Brassard said.
Brassard has said he will not comment further due to the ongoing civil litigation.
Aylwin defends himself to integrity commissioner
In City of Barrie integrity commissioner Suzanne Craig’s findings, she outlined her view of the crux of the incident.
“(Aylwin)’s March 21 Facebook post were insulting and offensive to (Brassard). This was contrary to the (Aylwin)’s obligations under the Code (of Conduct),” she wrote. “Even though it was not made out through this investigation that (Aylwin) intended to cause harm through the statements made in the Facebook post, I found that (Aylwin) did make statements in his posting which were offensive and derogatory.”
In his response to Craig's initial findings, which Aylwin shared with BarrieToday, he outlined why he made the controversial posting.
“The statements made in my Facebook post reflect my opinion on an important issue that affects our community. The statements, while strongly worded, were not discourteous, offensive or aggressive, are my honest understanding based on information known to me, and I invited Mr. Brassard to enter into a public dialogue about the issue. I believe that my actions were not in breach of my obligations under the council Code of Conduct,” Aylwin wrote.
Aylwin further goes on to state that the words actually used in the post must be the primary basis of its meaning, and the context of the heated online debate going on that day concerning the shootings in New Zealand should be taken into consideration.
“The post does not accuse Andrew Scheer of ‘using white supremacist rhetoric.’ Rather, I believe my post would be understood as pointing to this as an example of people in power failing to make the connection between such rhetoric on the part of Faith Goldy and resulting violence,” wrote Aylwin. “Again, many people, including our prime minister, reacted to Mr. Scheer’s conduct the same way. What I call ‘unacceptable’ and ‘dangerous’ is failing to make this connection.”
Aylwin notes that in order to violate the Code of Conduct, statements of fact must be known to be false or the speaker must have intent to mislead.
He contends that this is not the case in this instance, as several media outlets reported the occurrence of the same events in the same or similar terms, some of which are linked at the bottom of his original posting.
“In closing, the post simply asked that the two MPs and Mr. Scheer, 'clearly denounce' Faith Goldy’s neo-Nazi rhetoric. It asked, and my response to the complaint again asked, that the two MPs engage in a dialogue about these topics,” wrote Aylwin. “Instead of doing so, they have elected a legal dialogue through the office of the integrity commissioner and their lawyer. Given their choice, it is important to me that the law and the facts be accurately stated.”
This isn’t the first time the rookie city councillor has found controversy over his social-media presence.
On Feb. 14, a day after the Barrie police officers were cleared of any wrongdoing in the choking death of Olando Brown, the Barrie Police Association called for an explanation from Aylwin regarding a June 23 retweet of a local news report on the 32-year-old Barrie man's death with the comment: “This is incredibly disturbing, but not surprising. #Barrie.” To read our story on that controversy, click here.
“I am in no way suggesting that (Aylwin) was not permitted to express his opinions denouncing white supremacy hate rhetoric and anti-immigrant groups. However, this Facebook post crossed the line of responsible conduct for a municipal councillor when (Aylwin) baselessly suggested that (Brassard) has caused harm and is associating with white supremacists,” wrote Craig in her findings.
The integrity commissioner’s recommendations include that council impose the penalty of a reprimand on Aylwin. In addition to the recommended penalty, Craig said council consider developing a city-wide social-media policy. The issue will be discussed at the Monday night's general committee meeting, at which time Aylwin has said he will also make a statement.
“As for the litigation... I have retained experienced legal counsel and I am prepared to defend the other matter in court. My legal counsel will be filing a statement of defence imminently,” Aylwin told BarrieToday on Thursday.