OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau and his Ontario campaign co-chair are facing a $1.5 million libel suit from a would-be candidate who was barred from running for the Liberal party.
In a statement of claim filed in court Monday, lawyers for Christine Innes say the Liberal leader and David MacNaughton slandered her by falsely claiming she’d been blocked because of bullying and intimidation tactics used by her campaign.
They maintain the bullying allegations were a “smokescreen” to hide the real reason Innes was barred: Her refusal to promise she wouldn’t run against a hand-picked Trudeau star recruit, Toronto Centre MP Chrystia Freeland.
The statement of claim contains allegations not proven in court.
Liberal party national director Jeremy Broadhurst said Innes’ claim “is without merit and it will be defended vigorously.”
“We stand behind the campaign’s decision to red light Ms. Innes’ nomination and the party has no intention of being pressured into revisiting that decision,” he said in an email.
Innes had wanted to run for the Liberals in the pending byelection in Trinity-Spadina, which became vacant last month when New Democrat MP Olivia Chow resigned to run for mayor in Toronto.
Trinity-Spadina and the adjacent Toronto Centre will cease to exist in 2015 due to redistribution which will hive off chunks of both ridings to create three new downtown Toronto constituencies.
Innes’ lawyers say MacNaughton was prepared to green light her nomination bid for the byelection but only on condition that Innes promise to seek the nomination for the 2015 general election in Spadina-Fort York, rather than University-Rosedale, where Freeland wants to run.
The deal was meant to disguise the fact that Trudeau was reneging on his promise to allow open nominations in all ridings, the suit alleges.
Innes refused to make the promise and MacNaughton subsequently informed her that she would not be allowed to seek the byelection nomination in Trinity-Spadina or in any other riding for the 2015 election.
“Less than three days after Innes refused the backroom deal on principle, the defendants launched a full-scale character attack on her,” the statement of claim says.
“They accused her and her campaign team in the national media of ‘bullying,’ ‘intimidation,’ and other unethical conduct … The defendants deliberately sacrificed Innes’ reputation in order to create a smokescreen to shield Trudeau from public outcry for breaching his public vow of non-interference in local riding nominations.”
Innes has run twice for the Liberals in Trinity-Spadina, losing both times to Chow. Prior to 2006, the riding had been represented by Innes’ husband, Tony Ianno, for 13 years.
Written complaints sent to the Liberal party by several young volunteers and obtained by The Canadian Press, singled out Ianno for the alleged bullying behaviour by Innes’ team. The youths said they’d been warned they’d have little future in the party if they didn’t back Innes and that Ianno had bad-mouthed both Freeland and Trudeau.
Innes’ statement of claim says MacNaughton initially slandered her in statements to the media about the decision to block her candidacy. It says Trudeau then “intentionally or recklessly libelled or slandered Innes” by repeatedly defending that decision.
The use of the term “bullying” is particularly egregious, her lawyers argue, because bullies are perceived as “undesirable, psychologically troubled individuals who leave their victims with painful emotional and mental scars.”
“Bullying and intimidation, when used together implies criminal or quasi-criminal, unethical and anti-democratic conduct” — an implication damaging to Innes’ legal career and future political involvement.
The statement of claim seeks $1 million in damages and another $500,000 in punitive, exemplary and aggravated damages.
The latter is warranted due to the “malicious, high-handed and arrogant conduct” of Trudeau and MacNaughton, the statement of claim says, arguing that the pair need to be deterred from such conduct in future.