Defeated London city councillor Bill Armstrong, recently hit with $90,000 in legal costs from a failed defamation lawsuit against a local radio station, is suing another media outlet for a column he alleges “intentionally” damaged his reputation.
Armstrong launched a $250,000 defamation suit after Our London published a column, written by Amir Farahi, about alleged potential conflicts of interest that later spurred a retraction.
Our London, then a Metroland weekly newspaper, no longer exists. It was closed as part of a deal between media giants Torstar and Postmedia, owner of The London Free Press, in November 2017.
Named in the suit as defendants are Farahi, Metroland Media and Torstar, Metroland’s parent company.
“There are similarities between the first and second (lawsuit) . . . we have two statements that are being made that affect my character,” Armstrong, a 24-year council veteran who was unseated in the Oct. 22 civic election, alleged when asked about the lawsuit by The Free Press.
Armstrong was ordered last week to pay a portion of the defendants’ legal fees from his last lawsuit, a case that was one of the first tests of Ontario legislation designed to protect public discourse.
Ontario’s highest court threw out that case — a $3.5-million defamation lawsuit against radio station 980 CFPL, Armstrong’s 2014 challenger Nancy McSloy and three people linked to her campaign for online and on-air comments about his 1987 sexual assault conviction — last month. Armstrong was long ago pardoned.
The councillor — who lost his ward seat to Shawn Lewis, originally also named in the tossed-out defamation suit — said he’s not worried about being saddled with even more legal fees if he doesn’t succeed in his latest case.
Farahi’s column suggested Armstrong was in a conflict position over the East London Community Centre because of a nearby rental property and the benefit Armstrong might glean from a zoning change, his lawsuit alleges.
But the statement of defence, filed last December, contends Farahi emailed Armstrong the day before the piece went to press to ask why he hadn’t declared a conflict. The politician did not respond to that email, according to the statement. A day later, he wrote to the paper’s editor saying he did not have a conflict, the statement contends.
The piece ran Feb. 2, 2017, after which Armstrong served a libel notice, the statement of defence alleges. It also contends he did not respond to the newspaper’s offer to run a rebuttal story.
In mid-March, the newspaper issued a retraction, noting the community centre wouldn’t require a zoning change and Armstrong wouldn’t be in a conflict of interest position, according to the statement of defence.
Months later, in October 2017, Armstrong served the defendants with a statement of claim, alleging the column is defamatory. He contends Farahi’s column suggested Armstrong “misused his position as councillor for personal benefit” and “failed to act with integrity.”
Armstrong’s statement of claim alleges “sources” cited in Farahi’s column had a political agenda to damage Armstrong’s reputation and that Farahi failed to determine and accurately report the facts of the case.
None of the allegations contained in the statement of claim and the statement of defence has been proven in court.
Farahi and the lawyer representing all three defendants did not respond to Free Press requests for comment.
But the statement of defence denies the column was defamatory, and suggests Farahi was merely commenting on matters of public interest.
“To the extent the column contains statements of fact, they are substantially true, and to the extent the column contains statements of opinion, they are comment on matters of public interest,” the statement of defence says.
The statement also rebuts the assertion the column was written to damage Armstrong’s reputation or with “intentional or careless disregard for factual circumstances.”