Something very strange happened at the Municipal Council meeting on November 27. The meeting opened with a statement, read by Mayor David Gordon, in response to an article we had published on November 22, five days earlier. The article reported that a group of local business people had been in touch with the Province with an offer to invest millions of dollars in the Kemptville College property. Although the Mayor’s statement was a response to the article, it seemed that he (or those who actually wrote the statement) had not actually read it.
I have no doubt that David Gordon did not write the statement he put his name to, more likely it was the work of CAO Brian Carré, the person who has been negotiating with the Province for almost three years.
The statement denied the content of the article, claiming “that the author’s inference is out of context and unsubstantiated. I can confirm with you that no attempts were made by the North Grenville Times or the author of the statement to corroborate this presumption, either with the Municipality of North Grenville or the Province, prior to the statement being printed”. Now the article did not infer anything: rather it quoted extensively from a letter sent by the business group to the Province. Hardly unsubstantiated, though what “out of context” means in this regard is unclear.
We did not “attempt…to corroborate this presumption” with the Municipality for two reasons. First of all, it was not an assumption, it was a documented fact. Secondly, the Municipality was not relevant to the article, so why ask them to corroborate something they did not even know was happening? That was a rather arrogant assumption by David Gordon and Brian Carré: that anything to do with the College should be referred to them. They, and whoever else on Council inspired the statement, seemed to be offended that there could be any contact between the Province and anyone other than them.
The article said that the business group “have made representations to Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister Jeff Leal to purchase the entire site”. It did not say that they were actively negotiating with the Province. Though this seems to be the misapprehension under which Brian Carré and David Gordon are labouring. And this misunderstanding on their part appears to have hit their egos rather hard. Because, in addition to making the statement at Council that evening, a press release was issued by the Municipality at 7.35, while the Council meeting was taking place, again declaring that the article was wrong.
This release was sent to JuiceFM and the Advance, and was designed “to caution readers of the North Grenville Times”. The Advance immediately posted the release on the on-line platform, while JuiceFM had the good manners to also refer to my response to it. I believe the article in this issue, “Facts are Facts” explains the background to the story and what I want to focus on here is the role played by David Gordon and Brian Carré in this mess.
We are condemned for not referring the article to them before publication, even though it had nothing to do with their talks with the Province, yet they sat on the article for five days before issuing their statement and press release without ever contacting us to get the “context”. The release was drawn and ready to go once the Mayor had read it out in Council. This was premeditated and completely inaccurate in its accusations. I understand that the Mayor had received a copy of the letter from the business group to the Province before he read out the statement: meaning he and the CAO must have known what the facts were.
This paper has only ever said positive things about David Gordon and Brian Carré individually, whatever we may think of the policies and actions of municipal council and staff, so this statement came as an unpleasant betrayal. To add insult to injury, the statement actually contains this preposterous claim: “Council and our CAO have been clear, transparent and on the record when providing details of the negotiations with the Province of Ontario”. Neither Council nor the CAO have provided the people of North Grenville with any information whatsoever, before the recent incomplete and preliminary announcement that a deal was being reached. Instead, we were told of gag orders and the Municipality not being allowed to say anything about how negotiations were going. Instead, after three years of “negotiations”, the CAO managed to get the Province to tell us how much of the College lands we could have, but not the purchase price. The Mayor’s promise that no taxpayers dollars would be used to buy the land remains unfulfilled. In addition, Brian Carré managed to get the Province to delay any final announcement until a few months before a provincial election: a wonderful achievement.
It doesn’t really matter what they may have been told by the Minister and his staff: the documents are there to be read. The group of businessmen did contact the Province. They did offer to invest millions of dollars in the College. They did assure the province that, if the deal with the municipality fell through for any reason, they were still willing to go ahead themselves. No inference there. No “unsubstantiated and out of context” claims. No false news, as the Mayor and CAO have claimed. Just the facts. Now they should apologise and issue a press release acknowledging their error. If you’re going to attack the integrity and credibility of the NG Times, at least criticise us for what we actually write. It is not our integrity that is in question here.
Why did The Advance not perform any due diligence (e.g. fact checking) before publishing the release? Can you take legal action against the Mayor and CAO?
Libel and slander, known broadly as defamation, are untrue statements made by someone that are harmful to someone else’s reputation. The statements can be about a person, business, organization, group, nation, or product that tends to hurt the person’s reputation. Also, the false statements must be made to other people, not just to the person it is about. Libel refers to written statements and slander refers to oral statements. Under the law, both are grounds for a civil lawsuit.
If you are suing because your reputation was damaged due to a libelous statement, you do not have to prove that it caused you financial loss because the law presumes that you suffered a financial loss as a result of the loss of your reputation. However, you may have to prove actual financial loss if you are suing for slander. There are some limited circumstances when you do not have to prove financial loss in slander cases, including when the slanderous statement damaged your professional or business reputation.
If you are suing a newspaper, radio or television station, you must usually give them notice of your intention to sue within six weeks of learning of the incident, and start your lawsuit within three months. If you are suing someone other than a newspaper, radio or television station, you must normally start your lawsuit within two years. If you are defending such a claim, publishing an apology may help to limit the amount of damages that may be awarded.