Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming is disputing allegations of defamation arising from an email that he sent to party members detailing an alleged pay raise awarded to a B.C. deputy minister.
According to a statement of defence filed this week in B.C. Supreme Court, Fleming was fulfilling his duties as an Opposition critic, offering fair comment and communicating matters of public interest, when he sent the July 22 fundraising email, in which Athana Mentzelopoulos was named. Fleming is the education critic for the B.C. NDP.
The email, according to the statement of defence, sought to raise $10,000 to “help us support B.C. teachers.” In addition to soliciting donations, it noted that “while Christy Clark can’t find a single new penny to help kids in B.C. schools, she’s found plenty of money to give to her friends.”
It went on to suggest Mentzelopoulos, “Clark’s bridesmaid and quarter-million dollar buddy,” had been awarded a $30,000 pay raise the previous year, “on top of the $217,000 she was already making,” the statement of defence reads.
The contents of the email are at the heart of the lawsuit filed last month by Mentzelopoulos, the deputy minister of jobs, tourism and skills training, which claimed Fleming “falsely and maliciously” published the letter in order to cause her harm and suggest she was the beneficiary of “cronyism and corruption.” Mentzelopoulos served as a bridesmaid for Clark in 1996.
In Fleming’s response, it is denied that the email was defamatory. And it listed qualified privilege, fair comment and responsible communication on matters of public interest as the relevant legal defences. It also noted there was at least one error of fact in the original statement of claim.
“The defendant says, and that fact is, that the July 22 email concerns matters of public interest and was responsibly reported by the defendant, having taken reasonable steps in the circumstances to ensure that the impugned statements were fair and that their contents were true and accurate,” reads the statement of defence.
According to the statement of claim, Mentzelopoulos was recruited to the provincial government in 2004 by then-premier Gordon Campbell.
The statement of defence states that Mentzelopoulos left the provincial government in 2009 for a job in the federal government’s Department of Health.
She returned in 2011 when she was appointed, by Clark, as the deputy minister of corporate priorities in the office of the premier, the statement of defence reads.
At present, in addition to her duties as the deputy minister of jobs, tourism and skills training, Mentzelopoulos holds “concurrent duties” as deputy minister of intergovernmental relations, and deputy minister responsible for the board resourcing and development office. According to government public accounts, she made $248,782 in salary and compensation in fiscal 2013-2014.