TORONTO—Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne took the next step this week in her libel suit against the province’s Opposition leader, filing a statement of claim seeking $2-million in damages.
The libel suit stems from Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak’s comments late last month suggesting that Wynne “oversaw and possibly ordered the criminal destruction of documents,” and that criminal conduct took place in her office.
“These allegations and accusations are false and utterly unsupported, and you ought to know it,” Wynne wrote in an open letter to Hudak on March 30, threatening legal action if he didn’t apologize and retract the comments.
The statement of claim asks for $1-million for “general damages for defamation,” $500,000 for “aggravated damages” and $500,000 for “punitive damages plus costs.”
Wynne’s spokesperson said the statement was delivered to Hudak, Progressive Conservative energy critic Lisa MacLeod and the PC Ontario Fund.
“Mr. Hudak, Ms. MacLeod, and the PC party still have an opportunity to do the right thing, apologize and retract their comments,” said Zita Astravas, the premier’s press secretary.
“If they do, this action will not be pursued further and damages will not be sought.”
The premier’s office said any damages received through the libel suit would be given to charity, but any expenses incurred would be covered by Wynne’s Liberal party.
The Conservatives confirmed they received the statement of claim, and accused Wynne of using “libel chill” to try and silence the official opposition.
“This looks malicious, and I think they would do anything at this point in time to have the Progressive Conservative caucus … stop talking about the $1.1-billion cancelled gas plants as well as the alleged coverup,” said MacLeod, the Tory energy critic.
“The government should never resort to the courtroom to silence its critics.”
Provincial police said they are considering possible breach of trust charges against a top aide to former premier Dalton McGuinty, who allegedly gave an outside tech expert access to computers in the premiers’ office.
The police are investigating the deletion of government emails related to the Liberals’ decisions to cancel gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga, Ont., prior to the 2011 election.
The Tories also complained that both the libel suit and the provincial budget date were announced at exactly the same time that Ontario’s highest ranking civil servant, cabinet secretary Peter Wallace, was testifying at the gas plants committee.
“This tactic took me away from doing the job I was intending to do (as a committee member) in order to respond to this frivolous lawsuit,” said MacLeod.
Wallace told the justice committee he hadn’t raised the fact that McGuinty’s former chief of staff, David Livingston, had asked him how to wipe computer hard drives in the premier’s office during previous testimony because he didn’t take it seriously.
“I did not understand at that time that the passing comment by Mr. Livingston was actually anything serious,” he said.
“I learned that through the police investigation, and when I learned that this had in fact happened, my shock and my concern was crystal clear.”
Police allege Livingston gave access to an outside computer expert, the boyfriend of another senior Liberal in McGuinty’s office, to 24 computers in the premier’s office in February 2012.
“I would have considered that to be appalling, had I known,” Wallace testified.
Police experts have only been able to recover data from four of the 24 hard drives from the premier’s office that they seized, which show a special password was used Feb. 6 and 7, 2012.
They can’t say yet if the other hard drives were accessed with the password after Wynne became premier Feb. 11, 2012, but it was valid until March 20.
Wynne maintained Livingston never worked for her, only for McGuinty.
“As I have said many times, I did not direct David Livingston,” Wynne said during question period April 15. “He was the chief of staff to the former premier. He was never my staff. I never directed him in any way whatsoever.”