National Post (Latest Edition)

Lawsuit threat from Ford unlikely to proceed: lawyer

- By Colin Perkel and Ashley Menkes

Mayor Rob Ford’s threat to sue former staffers for telling police about activities they said included his consorting with suspected sex workers is unlikely to go anywhere, a prominent libel lawyer said Thursday.

Well-establishe­d case law offers protection to people speaking to investigat­ors — but it’s not absolute, said Julian Porter.

“The employees would have had a qualified privilege in talking to the police provided they weren’t malicious and inventing it,” Mr. Porter told The Canadian Press. “Now if the employees tell it to everybody else, that’s a different matter.”

At city hall, Mr. Ford identified three former staffers as possible lawsuit targets: chief of staff Mark Towhey, special assistant Isaac Ransom, and spokesman George Christopol­ous. He also named a waiter who, according to court documents, told police he suspected Mr. Ford had snorted cocaine while in a restaurant backroom.

If Mr. Ford does sue, he would likely claim defamation of character, with the stipulatio­n that the accusation­s are false and his reputation has been harmed as a direct result.

“It’s hard to see how these latest allegation­s could possibly lower Mayor Ford’s reputation in the minds of right-thinking people,” said Daniel Iny, a civil litigation lawyer. “Mayor Ford’s reputation is so low right now that it could be hard for him to prove, even if the allegation­s … are false, that they damaged his reputation any further.”

The ex-staffers, who simply “had a legal and/or moral duty to co-operate with the police in their investigat­ion and answer the police questions … don’t have to defend their reputation,” said Mr. Iny. Mr. Ford, on the other hand, “will be putting his reputation at issue” by moving along with the case.

Based on Mr. Ford’s recent admissions of drug and alcohol use, “one would expect that a lawyer would want a rather large retainer to take on this case.” And if he chooses to move forward, said Mr. Iny, he had better ensure there are no other revelation­s to come.

Mr. Porter said people have to be able to speak freely to investigat­ors, but the caveat always remains that they don’t invent what they say.

That doesn’t mean, however, that they can never be mistaken in what they say, provided it’s an honest mistake.

“Even though what they’ve said is on its face libelous, the law says this is an occasion of qualified privilege and hence, you are allowed, even if you get things wrong, to say it to police.”

Media reporting on the court documents also enjoy absolute immunity from a libel suit, provided the reporting is fair and accurate.

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