Former B.C. MP wins $125,000 in defamation lawsuit

 

VANCOUVER — Former B.C. MP Blair Wilson has been awarded $125,000 in damages after a judge found that The Province newspaper defamed him in an article published 10 years ago.

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In a ruling released Thursday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jane Dardi cleared the paper of most of the allegations of defamation levelled against it by Wilson, but found it liable for one paragraph in the October 2007 story that alleged he sought a loan from his mother-in-law on her deathbed.

“Balancing the evidence as a whole, I accept that as a result of the publication of the deathbed-loan allegations Mr. Wilson suffered emotional distress, humiliation and the loss of his standing in the West Vancouver community and with his colleagues in Ottawa,” said the judge. “His tarnished reputation is a significant factor in the assessment of damages.”

Wilson, a Liberal candidate who was elected as an MP in the riding of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky in 2006, launched the lawsuit after several stories were written by reporter Elaine O’Connor.

The judge found O’Connor to be an “experienced and conscientious” investigative journalist who had spent significant time researching the story and had canvassed a broad range of sources.

“She approached her research diligently and with integrity. Her extensive notes also reflect the breadth of her investigative efforts.”

“The Province is gratified to have been vindicated in its overall handling of the articles,” Daniel Burnett, the paper’s lawyer, said in an email. “The court found the reporting was diligent and in good faith. The one paragraph in the article over which liability was found was corrected several years ago. They are disappointed in that part of the ruling and are considering their position.”

O’Connor’s stories detailed how Wilson had left a trail of debt that his critics claimed had left him unfit to hold office. They also outlined allegations that Wilson had violated election-campaign finance laws.

At trial, the newspaper argued that the stories were substantially true and raised the relatively new defence of responsible communication to the allegation that Wilson’s reputation had been destroyed.

In her ruling, the judge found that everything complained about by Wilson was protected by responsible communication, but ruled that the deathbed-loan claim was false and defamatory.

The claim related to a $22,870 transaction in April 2007, described in the article as a loan from Norma Lougheed, Wilson’s mother-in-law, to Wilson just before her death the following month. In fact, the money was a repayment to Wilson of money he had lent to his election campaign fund, and had nothing to do with Lougheed. When the newspaper discovered the truth about the issue in January 2011, it published a correction.

The judge dismissed Wilson’s claims of defamation in the case against former MLA Judi Tyabji, who Wilson alleged had embarked on a campaign to discredit him.

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