Lantzville council members drop suit against former councillors

High court costs cited

A civil lawsuit involving current and former Lantzville councillors is over.

Lantzville Mayor Colin Haime and councillors Denise Haime and John Coulson dropped their civil lawsuit, filed in B.C. Supreme Court last March, against former councillors Jennifer Millbank, Graham Savage and Dave Scott, claiming the ex-councillors publicly slandered them in 2014 and 2015.

Greg J. Allen, lawyer for the current Lantzville council members, told the News Bulletin the case is no longer proceeding, adding that he could not comment on specific details regarding the case. Millbank said the suit was dropped without any related compensation.

According to documents filed in B.C. Supreme Court last March, the Haimes along with Coulson claimed various social media posts and comments, publicly released e-mails, letters and other documents made by Millbank, Savage and Scott between October 2014 and March 2015 contained unsubstantiated allegations claiming that they were acting inappropriately as elected officials.

They accused Millbank of circulating material known as the March memorandum via e-mail in April 2015, which they felt contained false, malicious and defamatory language toward them. They also claimed that Scott’s resignation letter, which according to court documents, said he was resigning from council because “too many boundaries have been crossed,” was defamatory.

Millbank, Savage and Scott resigned from Lantzville council in 2015, about six months after they were elected, citing ongoing conflict and dysfunction among councillors and staff.

In a press release to the News Bulletin, the plaintiffs confirmed that they have dropped the lawsuit but that their decision does not vindicate the former Lantzville councillors. The release states that the lawsuit was not a frivolous action, that the former councillors have provided “little to no evidence of their claims” or any evidence to support their public statements and should still be held accountable for their “political” statements. The release also states that the defendants hired a “high-priced” lawyer from Vancouver and that decision to discontinue the suit was made due to the potentially high costs in legal fees.

Both the plaintiffs’ and the defendants’ lawyers are based in Vancouver.

Mayor Colin Haime told the News Bulletin that although the suit has been dropped, he believed they would have won the case had it gone to trial because the claims made by the former councillors were untrue.

“I know we would have won because there is absolutely no support for their statements and their positions,” he said. “Whereas, when it comes to our side, all the meetings themselves were recorded, yet there were claims of inappropriate actions during meetings. An easy review of the records indicates that was not the case.”

Haime said he doesn’t believe the former councillors qualified for indemnification and had the suit reached trial it would have been “five times” higher in legal fees. He said the lawsuit was about the truth and holding the defendants accountable.

“It was about the truthfulness, or lack of thereof, in relation to their actions and statements,” he said. “Their actions have caused the residents significant … damages and from our standpoint, it is something that they have to live with.”

Speaking to the News Bulletin, Millbank said she’s glad the suit has been dropped but felt her side would have won the case because the accusations were groundless. She questioned the plaintiffs’ position on requiring her and her defendants to provide evidence.

“It is important to recognize that they are the plaintiffs, it is their obligation to prove their claims,” she said.

Scott said the district had no choice but to cover them under indemnification because Lantzville has an indemnification bylaw, but said the entire case was baseless. He said his resignation letter wasn’t defamatory because it didn’t specifically mention anyone. He also said that he had nothing to hide and wouldn’t have had any issue going to trial because the truth would have come out.

“In some ways I wish the case would have gone fully forward … because the truth would have come out,” he said. “There are now a lot of documents that will never see the light of day.”

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