Right-wing attempt to muzzle criticism fails in court

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Forward Together News
June 14, 2024

I have some news to share with you about an experience that I have been going through – both during and after serving as your Mayor – that you deserve to know and also may find generally informative.

But first, I want to thank you so much for your support over the years.

And thanks for stopping me on the street, saying hello, and sharing your ideas and love for our city. It really means a lot and is so appreciated.

I am writing to let you know that the very tough three-year legal battle concerning my efforts to stand up against racism in Vancouver has finally come to a positive conclusion.

By way of background, in January 2021, I issued a statement from the Mayor’s Office denouncing hate and extremism reported by the media to be surfacing within the venerable Non-Partisan Association (NPA) municipal political party.

We were in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there were heightened concerns in Vancouver about racism following George Floyd’s murder by police, daily racist remarks by U.S. President Donald Trump fueling anti-Asian and anti-Muslim hate, record high levels of antisemitism, and the ongoing fallout from the handcuffing of Heiltsuk First Nation members Maxwell Johnson and his 12-year-old granddaughter Tori-Anne by Vancouver Police.

In response to my January statement, seven NPA Board members – David Mawhinney, Christopher Wilson, David Pasin, Phyllis Tang, Angelo Isidorou, Federico Fuoco, and Wesley Mussio – filed a defamation lawsuit against me in the British Columbia Supreme Court.

On the advice of my lawyer David Sutherland I applied to have the NPA’s lawsuit dismissed without merit.

In July 2022, Supreme Court Justice Wendy Baker threw out the NPA’s defamation suit

While I was deeply relieved to have the defamation suit dismissed, there remained a question as to who was responsible for my considerable legal fees. It was not until after the October 2022 civic election, in March 2023, that Justice Baker ordered the NPA plaintiffs to pay for my legal costs which at that time were over $100,000.

The NPA plaintiffs filed with the B.C. Court of Appeal to contest Justice Baker’s decision regarding the costs award.In December 2023, the B.C. The Court of Appeal unanimously decided in my favour and dismissed the NPA’s appeal, ordering them to reimburse me for my legal costs which had continued to pile up during the course of these appeals – with any and all monies recovered from the NPA going to my lawyer and nothing to me personally.

But the NPA was not yet done.

They threatened to mount a new appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada which could have taken years and tens-of-thousands more dollars in legal fees to resolve. They also filed with the B.C. court to conduct a line-by-line review of my legal costs, not scheduled to begin until November 2024.

However, last month the NPA abandoned these maneuvers and cut a cheque for $192,000 to cover a considerable portion, but by no means all, of my legal costs, leaving me approximately $10,000 out of pocket.

While I am very relieved the court proceedings have finally come to an end, this three-year-plus saga has been brutal. It’s been an anxiety-ridden time given the possibility that the courts could have ruled against me, and I would have to personally pay all legal costs – for myself and my court opponents. 

Moreover, my lawyer advised not to widely share information during this ordeal due to the threat of additional legal action – eliminating any public fundraising options. Clearly these were all things the NPA plaintiffs hoped would happen and the reason that these kinds of lawsuits, known as SLAPP suits, are so pernicious.

I wouldn’t change anything I did while serving as your mayor and would do it all again.

I am proud of getting us through COVID, securing a record number of housing approvals, getting the Broadway Plan passed with the toughest renter protections in Canada, bringing over $1-billion in social housing investment to Vancouver, leading the charge to decriminalize drugs to save lives, and advancing Reconciliation – all while convincing an extremely fragmented council to keep taxes down and public services running at their best.

I am also proud I pushed back against racism to the best of my abilities, but the defamation lawsuit has been the stuff of nightmares.

I am not asking anything of you with this letter.

I just think you have the right to know and that it is important that supporters like you be told the story about this effort by the rightwing to use legal chill to undermine legitimate democratic competition.

While this court battle limited my ability to speak out for far too long, it also stoked my strong belief that all progressives must fight these bully tactics, now sadly a common tool of rightwing groups and parties.

My simple message is that, no matter what the risk, I don’t regret doing what I have done to stand up against racism.

Progressive people must always call out and push back against intolerance where they see it and support progressive leaders like David Eby and Jagmeet Singh who promote justice and equality.

That is the way to preserve an open and functioning democracy which is something I have stood for my whole political life.


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