CTV News is pulling no punches on Patrick Brown.
The broadcaster has filed a statement of defence in response to the former Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader’s $8-million defamation suit. In the document provided by Brown’s lawyer, Howard Winkler, at the request of Simcoe.com, CTV called its decision to publish a report, in which two unnamed women accused Brown of sexual misconduct, “fair comment” and in the “public interest.”
“The named defendants had a duty to communicate the words complained of to the public,” Peter Jacobsen, a lawyer for CTV, said in the statement. “Each accuser felt that Brown had used his position of power over them and/or their vulnerability to pressure them into sexual relationships or engage in sexual activities with him. (The women were) several years younger than he was when they were inebriated and in positions subordinate to his. Brown was known by several people in the Barrie community to have had sexual relations with and/or to have romantically pursued women many years younger than he was.”
The details alleged in Brown’s lawsuit and CTV’s statement of defence have not been proven in court. Brown served as PC leader and Simcoe North MPP at the time the story broke in late January. He has continually denied the allegations.
However, the accusations led to Brown’s resignation as leader — a decision that triggered the leadership race won by now-Premier Doug Ford in March. Brown was also kicked out of the party caucus and barred from running for the PCs in June’s provincial election.
On July 3, Brown registered to run as a candidate for Peel Region chair in October’s municipal election.
CTV said the conduct of a person seeking to become premier is of “significant public importance.” CTV also referenced the Me Too movement in its decision to pursue the story.
While CTV reporters were initially made aware of potential accusations against Brown before the fall of 2017, allegations against American movie producer Harvey Weinstein “gave way to a new broad public awareness of the pervasiveness of previously unreported sexual harassment and assault endured by women as a result of the actions of men who abused their positions of authority.”
And, over the course of several weeks, reporters were “independently advised” of serious sexual-misconduct allegations against Brown, Jacobsen said.
After the broadcast, PC MPP Lisa MacLeod publicly stated she had flagged similar rumours about Brown in the weeks prior to his resignation, Jacobsen said.
The lawsuit includes CTV News president Wendy Freeman, anchor Lisa LaFlamme, three reporters, four unnamed producers and editors, CP24 and CTV’s parent company, Bell Media.
“The named defendants otherwise deny the allegations contained in (Brown’s) statement of claim unless explicit admitted herein,” Jacobsen said. “(They) explicitly deny the words complained of were falsely or maliciously broadcast or published.”
If successful, this would be the largest libel award in Canadian history.
In Brown’s 35-page statement of claim, filed in late April to a Barrie courthouse, his lawyers accuse CTV of “interference with the democratic process” due to the story’s proximity to the election.
On July 9, Winkler told Simcoe.com via email the defence “will only serve to aggravate the damages to which Mr. Brown will be entitled.”
“CTV has exposed itself to great risk in the litigation by reasserting the truth of what they originally broadcast and by attempting to rely on unsubstantiated rumour to defend their conduct,” Winkler said. “CTV attempts in its defence to minimize both the meaning of the words they broadcast and their impact on Mr. Brown. In our view, the defamatory meaning of the words broadcast and their devastating impact on Mr. Brown are a matter public record and beyond dispute.”
Winkler said Brown will continue to pursue the matter and “vindicate his reputation and seek appropriate compensation for the harm done to him.”
“CTV in its statement of defence does not assert that there is any truth to the rumours,” Winkler said. “In fact, they specifically admit that they could not verify them.”
However, Jacobsen said CTV believes its report was fair because it included Brown’s denial of the allegations. Brown was also asked to participate in an on-camera interview in an email sent to his communications adviser Jan. 24. But Brown did not agree to that request, provide a substantive response to questions or ask for more time to reply. Instead, Brown’s lawyer issued a statement and Brown held a news conference a few hours later, just prior to the airing of the story.
Damage to Brown’s reputation would have been caused by stories published by other media outlets in the weeks after his resignation as leader, including those concerning a probe by Ontario’s integrity commissioners into Brown’s failure to disclose rental income and a mortgage loan, and an investigation by Hamilton police over Brown’s involvement in a PC candidate’s nomination, Jacobsen said.