Friday, May 12, 2017

NDP Candidate Gerry Taft nailed for defamation

Supreme Court of BC Justice GC Weatherill has awarded Devin Kazakoff $75,000 in damages plus special costs in his defamation lawsuit against Invermere Mayor and BC NDP candidate Gerry Taft.

“The circumstances of the lawsuit have been very difficult for me,” Kazakoff said in a brief statement after he learned of Justice Weatherill’s 51-page decision.

“While I am obviously pleased lo have had my reputation vindicated by such an award and by the Court’s thorough reasons for judgment, I am also pleased to have this behind me now.”

Kazakoff, an Invermere resident, sued Taft for defamatory comments that Taft had made last year on the East Kootenay News Online Weekly website regarding a very controversial and divisive deer cull in Invermere.

In the readers’ comment section of a story about the controversy Taft wrote:
“Signed by the same Devon [sic] Kazzakof [sic] who was convicted of tampering with and destroying deer traps in Kimberley. I wouldn’t be so quick to believe convicted felons who have extreme positions on animal rights issues and who do not respect the decisions of democratically elected local governments doing what the majority of their constituents want.”
Gerry Taft January 13, 2016, at 6:29 pm

However, at no time had Kazakoff been convicted of a crime. He was arrested for vandalizing deer traps in Kimberley and charged with mischief. Here’s how this was described on pages 8 and 9 of Justice Weatherill’s decision:

“On March 30, 2015, the plaintiff pled guilty in Provincial Court to a single count of mischief under $5,000 in connection with the Kimberley incident. On April 1, 2015, he was sentenced and given a 30-day conditional discharge by the Honourable Judge R. Webb. The 30-day probationary condition imposed on the plaintiff was that he pay restitution of $735.50 to the City of Kimberley, $1,000 (joint and several with his accomplice) to the Ministry, and a victim fine surcharge of $1,040. The plaintiff paid all of those amounts the following day. Accordingly, his discharge became absolute on May 1, 2015 and, as a result, he does not have a criminal record.”

According to the judgment Taft explained his reaction this way:

“The defendant conceded on cross-examination that he only “skimmed” the e-know article at home while eating dinner and published his post a “minute or two later” based upon his “vague memory” of the plaintiff’s court proceeding nine months earlier. He further testified that, at the time of his post, he either had not known or had forgotten that the plaintiff had received a conditional discharge. His post was based simply on his recollection that the plaintiff “had been caught and had pled guilty to a crime and had been convicted”. He admitted on cross-examination that he had no idea as to the charge the plaintiff had pleaded guilty to.”

Justice Weatherill had some harsh things to say about Taft.

In the analysis portion of his decision, pages 27-30, he said he found Kazakoff to be genuine, honest and forthcoming manner. “I have no hesitation accepting his testimony in its entirety,” he wrote.

However, he had little good to say about Taft.

“[106] I find that I am unable to give the defendant’s evidence the same approbation. On non-controversial matters, he testified in a straightforward and forthright manner. However, when his conduct regarding the central issues in this action came to be examined, he became confrontational, argumentative, and often launched into campaign-style monologues in an effort to validate his actions. It was apparent that he viewed many of the questions put to him on cross-examination as an affront to his integrity.

“[107] I found the defendant’s evidence regarding his state of mind towards the plaintiff as well as his understanding of and motivation for the contents of his January 13, 2016 post to be overly rehearsed and disingenuous.

“[108] I do not accept as credible the defendant’s evidence regarding what he knew of the plaintiff’s April 2015 court proceeding at the time of his January 13, 2016 post. The defendant testified that he was certain he knew that the plaintiff had pleaded guilty but was uncertain as to whether he had heard what the sentence was. Yet, the defendant was intimately involved in the deer cull issue from the beginning. It was and had been the subject of significant debate for over three years at the time of the plaintiff’s court proceedings. The defendant’s evidence that he was too overwhelmed by work and sleep deprivation to have been interested in the outcome of those proceedings defies credulity. The wide-spread media coverage regarding the plaintiff having received a conditional discharge would not have escaped the defendant who was the spokesperson for the cull side of the debate and who had been so intimately involved in the issue. I find that the defendant was well aware of the outcome of the plaintiff’s court proceedings in April 2015, and was upset at the result which he perceived was far too lenient. He twice stated during his cross-examination that “many crimes in Canada don’t have a severe enough penalty”.

“[109] Moreover, I do not accept the defendant’s evidence as to his motivation for the January 13, 2016 post. The defendant’s purported sense of obligation as someone involved in the deer cull debate to enlighten the readers of the e-know article about the dangers of accepting as true what had been written in the Press Release and what was depicted in the Video simply does not pass scrutiny. The defendant admitted he had not seen the Video and that there was nothing inaccurate about the Press Release. Why would the defendant feel the need to caution the viewer about an article that was demonstrably true and a video that he had not seen? If the defendant’s motivation was truly to alert e-know’s readers to the other side of the deer cull debate as he claims, he would not have written the words he did.

“[110] I find that the e-know article was viewed by the defendant as an opportunity to vent his pent-up frustration at the plaintiff, who he perceived as a “criminal” and whose opposition to “the decisions of democratically elected local governments doing what the majority of their constituents want” had gone unpunished.

“[111] The defendant’s demeanour changed noticeably during his evidence regarding his having been unaware of the plaintiff’s January 14, 2016 Facebook message to him demanding an apology. He went to some length in an attempt to explain how difficult it was for him to find messages on his Facebook account from people who were not one of his Facebook “friends” because those messages are located in his Facebook message box designated “Other”. Given his long-time active use of Facebook, I do not accept as credible his incomprehensible and confused obfuscation in this regard. The oft quoted phrase from Hamlet came to mind while I listened to him: “the Lady doth protest too much, methinks”.

“[112] Moreover, it defies common sense that a social media-savvy politician like the defendant would have had no interest in reading messages received from “Other”.

“[113] The defendant testified that “if there’s something I wish to say, I say it”. I find that he did precisely that—he intended to attack the plaintiff’s character and integrity and chose his words deliberately.

 “[114] The question is: were those words defamatory of the plaintiff?”

This decision will almost certainly have an impact on the election in Columbia River-Revelstoke. The big question is how much damage will it do to Taft?

When contacted for comment Taft said he was disappointed by the ruling.

“I offered an early apology concerning this matter,” he said in an e-mail to The Revelstoke Current.

“I am disappointed by the judgement and disagree with much of it. I will be consulting with my lawyer about filing an appeal. For now, I am focussed on the election campaign and the issues that matter to the people of Columbia River Revelstoke.”

However, Doug Clovechok, his BC Liberal opponent in the election campaign says this raises serious questions about Taft’s judgment and character.

“The conviction is very clear,” he said. “And this guy wants to be our elected MLA? I think you need better judgment than that. The people of Columbia River-Revelstoke deserve an MLA with the highest integrity,  someone they can trust. And I’m working hard every single day to earn their support on May 9th.”

Voters go to the polls on May 9.