Second apology ends defamation case in Chelsea, Quebec

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by Mark Burgess on June 17, 2010

Chelsea’s battle royale is over. Deputy Mayor Luc Poulin and his former rival for Chelsea council, Doug Griffin, have resolved their differences over last November’s heated municipal election campaign, although neither side would comment on the terms of their agreement.

In an email to the Low Down, Griffin said “the matter is resolved,” and he submitted a Letter to the Editor. He said the court had ordered both parties not to disclose anything about the case, an order to which both he and Poulin agreed.

Poulin’s lawyer, Marc Lapointe, would not say whether the matter was resolved, though he did say the Low Down would “most likely” get something from Griffin to publish.

“I cannot disclose the terms. I cannot even disclose if there is any agreement,” Lapointe said.

Griffin’s letter of apology – the second to be published in the Low Down after one appeared early in the new year – states that he “should never have implied that Mr. Poulin campaigned using tactics of deception or that he could have acted by way of ignorance.”

Griffin goes on to apologize for the “articles and the unfounded allegations which should not have been published because of their wrongful insinuations,” and for the emails “containing regrettable wording” that were published “without my knowledge or consent.”

Lapointe’s office sent Griffin a request for a “conference de reglement a l’amiable” May 31, which Poulin said was a proposal to settle out of court. Poulin would not disclose the terms of the proposal. Griffin signed the document and the June 9 hearing was cancelled mid-afternoon the day before it was to take place.

Poulin was suing Griffin for $9,000 for defamation, based on a flyer and an email Griffin distributed during the final week of last fall’s municipal election, when the two were contesting the seat in Chelsea’s Ward 1. Griffin stated that Poulin knew the terms of the $6.1 million in federal and provincial funding for Chelsea’s Meredith Centre could not be met, saying that Poulin withheld this information from voters. In the email, Griffin wrote that Poulin had “participated in a cover-up.”

Chelsea is still waiting for confirmation that it will receive the $6.1 million in federal and provincial grants, which has delayed the centre’s design and construction.

Griffin was issued a letter of demand from both Poulin and Mayor Caryl Green only days after the Nov. 1 election, ordering him to retract his statements or face lawsuits of $9,000 and $20,000, respectively. Green later dropped her demand.

The Low Down also received a letter of demand from Poulin and Green for an article published in the campaign’s final week, and resident Dr. Safwat Ayoub received one from Green.

The letters received a good deal of attention in the local media, with Low Down Publisher Nikki Mantell appearing on CBC Radio One’s Ottawa Morning and Radio Canada’s Gatineau channel 6 p.m. news, and the Ottawa Citizen also covered the Chelsea ‘feud’. Francois Bourque, President of the Professional Federation of Quebec Journalists, told Radio Canada that he doesn’t like the idea of elected officials using lawyers’ letters to intimidate journalists or influence their work.

Griffin defied the original order to apologize, calling the demand “absolutely groundless” and “silly”. He was served with a motion to institute proceedings Dec. 8. Griffin continued to speak out against the use of legal action to silence criticism.

“People should not have to worry about making statements that are true,” he told the Low Down in December. “Mr. Poulin has not, in either legal document, denied the accuracy of my statements.”

Griffin apologized in a letter in the Low Down’s Jan. 13 edition but it wasn’t enough to halt proceedings. Poulin said the apology was “a bit soft in mentioning the email.”

After a January 19 court date where nothing was resolved, June 9 was set for the oral hearing. The original list of witnesses to be called included  Gatineau MNA Stephanie Vallee; Mayor Caryl Green; Low Down publisher and editor Nikki Mantell and reporter Mark Burgess; Chelsea Director General Paul St. Louis, Chief Accountant Nancy Fraser and Director of Recreation and Culture Bruce Devine; and Chelsea residents Dr. Safwat Ayoub and Jacques Cayer.

Reach Mark Burgess at mark@lowdownonline.com

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Chelsea, Quebec defamation case settled out of court | Lowdown Online | Quebec Lawyers
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