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UPDATED: CUPE files defamation lawsuit against NPA

The public sector union that donated $226,000 to Vision Vancouver is suing the NPA and its defeated mayoral candidate. CUPE’s Nov. 25-filed B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit claims Kirk LaPointe, who lost by 10,000 votes to Mayor Gregor Robertson on Nov.
CUPE B.C. President Mark Hancock, Leo McGrady of McGrady Law and CUPE B.C. secretary-treasurer Paul Faoro spoke at press conference Wednesday during the B.C. Federation of Labour convention. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The public sector union that donated $226,000 to Vision Vancouver is suing the NPA and its defeated mayoral candidate.

CUPE’s Nov. 25-filed B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit claims Kirk LaPointe, who lost by 10,000 votes to Mayor Gregor Robertson on Nov. 15, falsely and maliciously accused the city’s outside workers’ union of corruption. CUPE’s lawyer said the defamation would harm its ability to bargain for its 24,000 municipal workers in B.C.

The lawsuit mentions LaPointe’s Oct. 20 Provincenewspapercommentary headlined “Vision Vancouver’s cash-for-jobs deal with the city union is corrupt.” The Province was not named in the lawsuit.

"It wants the debate to stop about the allegation of corruption, because [Local 1004]is not corrupt, but it has no desire to stop or chill the debate about campaign finance,” CUPE lawyer Leo McGrady said Wednesday at a news conference during the B.C. Federation of Labour convention.

The inspiration for LaPointe’s commentary was the Courier’s Oct. 16 story about a leaked recording of the Oct. 14 CUPE Local 1004 membership meeting, where Vision Coun. Geoff Meggs appealed for union support and pledged, on Robertson’s behalf, that there would be no contracting-out if Vision was re-elected. Local 1004 members at the meeting voted unanimously to donate $34,000 to Vision. The B.C. and national wings matched the donations for a $102,000 total. LaPointe wrote that was evidence Vision members acted in self-interest to prejudice the city’s bargaining position in next year’s negotiations.

“This one appears to be rather similar [to the Nov. 6 Vision defamation lawsuit],” LaPointe told the Courier. “I need to have our lawyers look at it and give us some advice about how it is we're going to defend.”

Vision sued LaPointe on behalf of Robertson and Meggs the same day that it leaked an internal poll by Stratcom that showed LaPointe only 4 per centbehind Robertson. The Nov. 14 NPA defence statement called Vision’s lawsuit a campaign ploy to “restrain the right of Mr. LaPointe and the NPA... to exercise their right of free speech, in particular their right to political speech.”

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Vancouver Police Const. Brian Montague would not confirm police are investigating Vision or CUPE for alleged municipal corruption under the Criminal Code. Said CUPE B.C. president Mark Hancock: “We have not been contacted by police; if we are contacted by police, we will fully participate in an investigation.”

A similar court battle is unfolding in Calgary. In 2013, Global TV aired a leaked video of homebuilder Cal Wenzel plotting to oppose candidates aligned with Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who was seen as anti-development. Six months later, Nenshi won re-election. Wenzel claimed Nenshi defamed him and sued for $6 million.

In Vision’s $2.25-million pre-election donations list, CUPE contributions totaled $226,000 of the $321,000 from unions. In2013, Local 1004 gained a 6.75 per centraise for the 1,600 outside workers in a contract that expires at the end of 2015. It also represents 3,400 full- and part-time and temporary Pacific National Exhibition workers, who received a 4.5 per centraise through 2016 in a September-ratified deal.

Dec. 5 is the deadline for written submissions to a B.C. legislative committee studying whether to limit local election campaign financing. In January, Vision lobbied the province to ban corporate and union donations, but gave up last spring when the BC Liberals extended municipal terms to four years without limiting donations.

This is not the first time a B.C. union has sued an opposition party for defamation. In 1997, a B.C. Supreme Court judge dismissed the Ironworkers Local 97 claim against then-opposition leader Gordon Campbell over a news release headlined: “B.C. Liberals Reveal Another NDP Kick Back Scheme.” The party referred to donations from unionized workers hired for the Island Highway project.

Wrote Justice B.D. Macdonald: “The official opposition (indeed, any member of an opposition party) and its leader have both a duty and an interest to investigate and expose any impropriety or irregularity in the management of government monies by the government of the day, and to communicate their findings to the electorate. The electorate has a corresponding interest in receiving such information.”

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