Dr. David Shanahan addressed the Committee of the Whole at the council meeting in North Grenville on December 18 in response to a press release issued by the municipality following an article in the Times on November 29. The following is an edited version of his remarks:
“One of the issues I want to address is the response to an article we printed in the North Grenville Times late last month. It simply stated that there was a group of businessmen who had made representations to the Province regarding Kemptville College. Five days after that article, the Mayor read a statement here in Council and, immediately after that meeting, issued it as a press release to the media.
The press release contained a number of inaccuracies. The obvious one was when it says the article “inferred” that a local firm, representing investors, was involved in discussions with Premier Wynne. There was no inference: the article stated that there was a group that was in communication with the Premier and with Jeff Leal. It did not say that they were negotiating, it simply said they were in communication. I note that the article then quoted one of those letters. And yet the press release went on to state that this “inference” was “unsubstantiated and out of context”. I still don’t know what “out of context” means, but unsubstantiated it certainly was not. We quoted the letter, it was based on interviews with the people who wrote the letters, who were a group of leading businessmen.
The problem in this case is that, when you printed and released and stated things that were not true, you knew that they weren’t true. Because the very letter that we quoted, you had already received two weeks earlier. You knew that this was not an inaccurate or unsubstantiated article. And yet you went to the unprecedented step of not only reading a statement to Council, but then issuing that as a press release to the media. What this comes down to is that you either misrepresented through ignorance, or deliberately repeated something that you knew was not true, based on letters you had already received.
Now when you say and print and distribute to the media something which is not true, that is one thing. When you do this knowing it is not true, that is libel. There is a legal issue involved here. That is a serious thing and I find it absolutely despicable, unprofessional, and, to be honest, downright stupid. The article had nothing to do with you, nothing. It was about a business group who were in talks, in communication, in correspondence with the Province, as you well knew.
You then responded in the same way, through a press release, to an article by Ralph Raina in our paper, answering his questions, in which you mentioned, in passing, that the financial details of the deal would not be released to the public until the deal was finalised and signed. I’m not sure of the legality of that.
When I tried to approach you for a quiet talk, formal, on the record, you didn’t even bother to acknowledge the e-mail. Which is why I have to be here tonight. You ask us to trust you when it comes to this deal with the Province, and we all hope it’s a good deal. The problem is that it doesn’t matter whether it’s a good deal or a bad deal: you don’t trust us. You’re asking us to buy a house, and then tell us what it’s going to cost, after we sign the deal. That hardly seems the proper and fair way, and, dare I say, the clear, transparent and on the record way of dealing with things. Surely the people of North Grenville have a right to see the deal, discuss the deal, before it’s signed, before they are committed to it?
Now, I believe the assurances I have received that this is going to be a good deal, and won’t cost the taxpayers anymore than it already has. But what if it’s a bad deal? We still have to trust you, we still have to wait until the deal is signed, and what options do we have then? Is this transparent? Is this on the record? Is this clear? I don’t think so.
So, to sum up: we printed an article that we had every right to print. It was substantiated, it was footnoted, it was accurate, it was true. You chose, five days later, without contacting us, I might add, to let it be known to the media that we had published something unsubstantiated, out of context, when you knew that was not true. Now, if you do it by mistake, I accept an apology. When you do it deliberately, that’s libel. And, without a formal apology and a retraction in print, it will go further. It doesn’t lay a great groundwork for trusting this place.
I thought we’d gone away from this kind of situation a while ago. I hate being back here.
Perhaps if you had read the article, you would have noticed that it did not say that anyone was negotiating with the province. It said that they had made representations to the Province. And you knew that was true because you got copies of the letter actually congratulating the municipality on the draft agreement, from that group of business people. Nobody ever said they were negotiating. You already knew that correspondence existed, that group existed, and what we had said was true. Therefore, what you wrote, what you said, was not true – and you knew it. Thank you.”
It was embarrassing to be there that night and see our elected representatives sitting on their hand and not respond in any way. It seems to me that none of them deserve to be returned next election.
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.