Former Progressive Conservative MPP Randy Hillier says a $100,000 defamation lawsuit filed against him by Premier Doug Ford’s chief of staff is a strategic move meant to silence his criticism of the Ontario government.
Mr. Hillier, who has sat as an independent since his suspension from the governing PC caucus in February, is locked in a legal battle with Dean French, the Premier’s powerful chief of staff, over a series of social-media posts the maverick MPP made in April.
In a statement of defence filed on Thursday, Mr. Hillier’s lawyer calls Mr. French’s lawsuit evidence of a “vendetta” against his client and a frivolous case meant to quash his free speech: “It has been commenced with the intent of stopping Mr. Hillier from commenting publicly on matters of public interest and to insulate high-ranking government officials in the Province of Ontario from criticism."
None of the allegations have been proved in court. Lawyers for both men declined to comment.
In posts on Twitter that he later removed, Mr. Hillier alleged an e-mail domain owned by Mr. French was implicated in electoral fraud in Alberta. Mr. Hillier also alleged Mr. French was responsible for the destruction of Ontario PC leadership ballots after the narrow win that put Mr. Ford at the party’s helm last year. In a statement of claim filed April 29, Mr. French calls these allegations “baseless” and alleges the MPP has launched “libellous and defamatory campaign” against him.
In his court filing, Mr. Hillier denies he is waging such a campaign. But the former PC MPP also alleges media accounts have already depicted Mr. French as having an “ugly reputation” for “heavy-handed tactics.” The Ford aide’s already “negative reputation,” the document argues, was not further damaged by Mr. Hillier’s tweets.
Mr. Hillier’s filing cites his April 12 public apology, in which he said his allegation that the e-mail domain mail.deanfrench.ca was owned by Mr. French was “erroneous." But the apology also said ownership of the domain “cannot be determined” – and Mr. French deemed this apology inadequate. Mr. Hillier’s statement of defence claims Mr. French was the previous owner of deanfrench.ca, and used it when he ran unsuccessfully for Toronto city council in 2014.
On the destruction of PC leadership ballots in Ontario, Mr. Hillier’s court filing says that despite public allegations of irregularities, Mr. Ford’s campaign, led by Mr. French, “exerted a great deal of pressure” on party organizers to destroy the ballots, over “strenuous opposition” from the campaign of failed challenger Christine Elliott, now minister of health.
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