A REP­U­TA­TION TO UP­HOLD

When the for­mer leader of the de­funct Ac­tion démocra­tique du Québec woke up three weeks ago to find his old party’s name in the news, in con­nec­tion with a fund­ing scan­dal, Dumont took to the air­waves to give his ver­sion of events and de­fend his hon­our.

Montreal Gazette - - Extra - Story by PHILIP AUTHIER The Gazette

The fact he hosts his own talk show on the TVA net­work helped him con­front ac­cu­sa­tions that his party had ben­e­fited from an il­le­gal fund­ing sys­tem in which donors were re­im­bursed for their con­tri­bu­tions by out­side busi­ness in­ter­ests. Not ev­ery­one has such a lux­ury. The pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing one’s rep­u­ta­tion be­smirched is a fact of life for politi­cians, and it can pop up when they least ex­pect it.

And Cana­dian and Que­bec his­tory are rid­dled with ex­am­ples, big and small.

Last month’s in­ci­dent in­volv­ing for­mer Parti Québé­cois leader An­dré Bois­clair and Coali­tion Avenir Québec MNA Jac­ques Duch­es­neau is a clas­sic case, in which two ti­tans choose to set­tle their dif­fer­ences by box­ing a few rounds in the courts.

You could ar­gue Bois­clair’s past haunts him still and that Duch­es­neau’s at­tack was un­pro­voked, but it made head­lines, el­e­vat­ing the CAQ out of the dol­drums the party had been mired in for months.

“I have been dragged through the mud be­cause of no-holds­barred par­ti­san pol­i­tics,” an emo­tional Bois­clair said on Sept. 29, read­ing a pre­pared state­ment to the me­dia four days af­ter Duch­es­neau made his com­ments.

“Mr. Duch­es­neau’s at­tempt at mak­ing petty and dis­hon­est con­nec­tions in or­der to de­stroy my rep­u­ta­tion is de­spi­ca­ble.”

Duch­es­neau’s ac­cu­sa­tions were in­deed heavy, and true to the Eliot Ness side of the for­mer Mon­treal chief of po­lice’s per­son­al­ity. Based on bits of tes­ti­mony from the Charbonneau Com­mis­sion, on Sept. 25 Duch­es­neau al­leged a con­nec­tion be­tween Bois­clair’s ad­mit­ted past con­sump­tion of co­caine and the award­ing of a gov­ern­ment con­tract to re­store Mon­treal’s St. James United Church.

He noted Bois­clair, in his ca­pac­ity as mu­nic­i­pal af­fairs min­is­ter, signed off on the grant four days be­fore the PQ lost the 2003 Que­bec elec­tion. (Nor­mally min­is­ters hold off on mak­ing fund­ing prom­ises in the event the gov­ern­ment loses power and their suc­ces­sors don’t agree with the spend­ing.)

The $2.6 mil­lion grant went to en­tre­pre­neur Paul Sauvé, an old friend of Bois­clair whose com­pany had been tied to the Hells An­gels.

Put t wo and t wo to­gether, Duch­es­neau sug­gested to re­porters out­side the Na­tional As­sem­bly.

“I am mak­ing the link be­tween $2.6 mil­lion, some­one as­so­ci­ated with the Hells An­gels and some­one who con­sumed (co­caine) and who was mak­ing de­ci­sions,” Duch­es­neau said.

When word came that Bois­clair was plan­ning to sue Duch­es­neau, the for­mer po­lice chief re­mained de­fi­ant.

“I am keep­ing my right to ask ques­tions,” he said Sept. 26, af­ter Bois­clair warned him to watch it. “We want to ob­tain an­swers.”

But a few days af­ter Bois­clair’s Sept. 29 state­ment deny­ing all the al­le­ga­tions and his de­ci­sion to leave his job as Que­bec’s del­e­gate gen­eral to New York in or­der to fight for his hon­our back home, Duch­es­neau qui­etly dropped the co­caine ref­er­ences while stick­ing to the rest of the story.

He, too, turned to lawyers, read­ing his own care­fully worded state­ment, in­sist­ing it was not his in­ten­tion to act ma­li­ciously or to tar­nish Bois­clair’s rep­u­ta­tion.

Like Bois­clair, he re­fused to take ques­tions.

Where the case goes is any­body’s guess. The CAQ has yet to re­ceive doc­u­ments mak­ing the defama­tion case for­mal.

But an­a­lysts agree Bois­clair man­aged to pick up con­sid­er­able pub­lic sym­pa­thy — per­haps be­cause Duch­es­neau went a bit too far in his ac­cu­sa­tions.

“I have of­ten ex­pressed my ad­mi­ra­tion for this man,” well-re­spected le­gal af­fairs colum­nist Yves Boisvert wrote in La Presse a few days af­ter the story blew up. “But this time he was frankly dis­grace­ful.

“Short of proof, this is the kind of cheap pol­i­tics which they (in the CAQ) promised not to do.”

Pun­dits have ar­gued the PQ may ac­tu­ally ben­e­fit from the con­tro­versy, be­cause a law­suit would ef­fec­tively muz­zle what Duch­es­neau and CAQ leader François Le­gault can say about Bois­clair.

On Oct. 6, La Presse re­ported Duch­es­neau would not seek re-elec­tion, a state­ment he has re­fused to con­firm or deny.

While the Bois­clair-Duch­es­neau case will be closely fol­lowed, it is not the only sen­sa­tional clash over who said what about whom in re­cent mem­ory.

For the record, the courts de­fine defama­tion as a state­ment that has the ten­dency to in­jure the rep­u­ta­tion of an- other per­son. The state­ment can be oral or writ­ten. In­deed, one of the most renowned cases in re­cent Que­bec his­tory was a writ­ten mat­ter.

In 1993, Mon­treal in­vest­ment coun­sel­lor Richard Laf­ferty sent a con­fi­den­tial news­let­ter to 275 of his clients in which he com­pared sovereignist lead­ers Jac­ques Parizeau and Lu­cien Bouchard to Adolf Hitler.

Parizeau and Bouchard sued for defama­tion, with the case drag­ging on in the courts for years.

The two ini­tially won their suit in 2000, with a court award­ing them each $20,000 in dam­ages — an amount that was in­creased to $100,000 in 2003 by the Que­bec Court of Ap­peal.

The le­gal wran­gling lasted be­yond Laf­ferty’s death in 2003, at age 80. In 2005, just days be­fore the case was sched­uled to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada, which had granted Laf­ferty’s fam­ily leave to ap­peal, it was set­tled out of court af­ter Parizeau and Bouchard pro­posed a set­tle­ment.

Another re­cent ex­am­ple: in 2002, Thomas Mul­cair, the present leader of Canada’s New Demo­cratic Party but then a Lib­eral MNA for the rid­ing of Chomedey, was sued for call­ing for­mer PQ cab­i­net min­is­ter Yves Duhaime a “Péquiste whore” whom he couldn’t wait to see in jail.

The name-call­ing, which took place af­ter the tap­ing of a tele­vi­sion talk show, fol-

“When you don’t re­spond, the one at­tack­ing at some point

has no other am­mu­ni­tion.”

UQÀM PRO­FES­SOR BERNARD MOTULSKY

lowed re­ports that Duhaime lev­er­aged his friend­ship with then-pre­mier Bernard Landry to land a $180,000 lob­by­ing con­tract.

In 2005, the courts or­dered Mul­cair to pay Duhaime $95,000 in dam­ages for def- am­a­tion.

Later, Mul­cair would con­cede that it wasn’t his finest mo­ment in pol­i­tics.

But ev­ery case is dif­fer­ent, and the politi­cian who goes down the road of the courts needs to be pa­tient.

Ac­cord­ing to Mark Bantey, a Mon­treal defama­tion and me­dia lawyer whose clients in­clude The Gazette, and who has been in­volved in many such law­suits, it can take up to three years to get a case to trial. Add another two or three years at the court of ap­peal, and a year or two more at the Supreme Court. So why bother? “Peo­ple feel it’s their only op­tion,” Bantey said in an in­ter­view.

“They need the court to in­ter­vene to re-es­tab­lish their good rep­u­ta­tion, es­pe­cially if the de­fen­dant is not pre­pared to apol­o­gize pub­licly.

“Some­times that’s their only choice. They get a judg­ment that says the de­fen­dant un­nec­es­sar­ily harmed their rep­u­ta­tion, and they use the judg­ment as vin­di­ca­tion.”

But Bantey, who de­fended Laf­ferty and his es­tate in his long fight with Parizeau and Bouchard, notes no­body ever gets com­plete sat­is­fac­tion in such mat­ters.

The Supreme Court of Canada has re­in­forced that point. In one fa­mous defama­tion case, Hill vs. the Church of Scien­tol­ogy (Toronto, 1995), the court stated: “A rep­u­ta­tion tar­nished by li­bel can sel­dom re­gain its for­mer lus­tre.

“A defam­a­tory state­ment can seep into the crevasses of the sub­con­scious and lurk there ever ready to spring forth and spread its can­cer­ous evil.

“The un­for­tu­nate im­pres­sion left by a li­bel may last a life­time. Sel­dom does the de­famed per­son have the op­por­tu­nity of re­ply­ing and cor­rect­ing the record in a man­ner that will truly rem­edy the sit­u­a­tion.”

Which leads us back to the court of pub­lic opin­ion, and how some politi­cians han­dle such at­tacks on their im­age.

If you ask Bernard Motulsky, who teaches com­mu­ni­ca­tions and mar­ket­ing at the Univer­sité du Québec à Mon­tréal, there is some­thing to be said for do­ing very lit­tle or even noth­ing when attacked.

“The sim­ple fact of an­swer­ing back reminds peo­ple of the at­tack we were sub­ject to,” Motulsky said in an in­ter­view. “You main­tain the polemic and you en­sure peo­ple will con­tinue talk­ing about you.

“When you don’t re­spond, the one at­tack­ing at some point has no other am­mu­ni­tion. And the pub­lic does not ap­pre­ci­ate some­one harp­ing on end­lessly.

“So you wind up with a dif­fi­cult pe­riod to live through, but it lasts a shorter time.”

JAC­QUES BOISSINOT/ THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Coali­tion Avenir Québec MNA Jac­ques Duch­es­neau al­leged a con­nec­tion last month be­tween for­mer Parti Québé­cois leader An­dré Bois­clair’s ad­mit­ted past co­caine use and the award­ing of a gov­ern­ment con­tract.

PAUL CHIASSON/ THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Four days af­ter Duch­es­neau’s com­ments, Bois­clair (pic­tured in 2007) said: “Mr. Duch­es­neau’s at­tempt at mak­ing petty and dis­hon­est con­nec­tions in or­der to de­stroy my rep­u­ta­tion is de­spi­ca­ble.” He an­nounced his in­ten­tion to sue Duch­es­neau and the CAQ.

MARIE-FRANCE COALLIER/ GAZETTE FILES

Lu­cien Bouchard, above, and Jac­ques Parizeau, top right, sued Richard Laf­ferty af­ter the Mon­treal in­vest­ment coun­sel­lor com­pared the sovereignist lead­ers to Hitler. The defama­tion case was in and out of courts for more than a decade, con­tin­u­ing be­yond Laf­ferty’s death.

FROM GAZETTE FILES

JOHN MA­HONEY/ GAZETTE FILES

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