WINNIPEG Mayor Sam Katz is suing the publisher of the Uniter student newspaper, the University of Winnipeg and a volunteer writer over a recent article Katz claims wrongfully implies he’s a criminal.
In a statement of claim filed Jan. 28 in the Court of Queen’s Bench, Katz is claiming unspecified financial damages in connection with a Dec. 4, 2013, article by volunteer writer Josh Benoit titled, The local political blunder.
Most of the article is presented in the lawsuit. It references Katz, property-development company Shindico, ex-city CAO Phil Sheegl, issues surrounding the construction of new Winnipeg fire halls and Martha Stewart.
The article also contains an imagined conversation between Katz and Sheegl.
"The plaintiff states... That the ordinary meaning of the words written by Benoit... Clearly state that the plaintiff is a criminal, had committed criminal acts pertaining to insider trading, belongs in jail and is evil," the lawsuit states.
"Further the natural and ordinary meaning of these words is the plaintiff has committed a criminal breach of trust.
"The plaintiff states that these untrue and defamatory statements were made deliberately and with malicious intent, or alternatively, were reckless in said regard."
Katz’s lawyer, Robbert Tapper, said it makes no difference that the article was published in a student newspaper.
"I don’t care what it is," he said in a brief interview Monday. "It’s an outrageous allegation and they have to come to terms with it."
Tapper pointed to the Uniter’s masthead, which states it’s the official student newspaper of the downtown university.
Tapper largely declined further comment, stating it would be "grotesquely unfair" to talk in detail about the case given the defendants haven’t been served with the lawsuit yet.
Tapper did say the defendants were given notice of an intention to sue unless a full apology was offered, as is required under Manitoba’s defamation laws before the suit was filed.
No statements of defence have been filed and the allegations made by Katz have not been proven.
Managing editor Nicholas Friesen said Monday he had yet to see the claim and couldn’t comment.
He clarified that Benoit was a volunteer writer, and not a student at the school as the lawsuit reports him to be.
University of Winnipeg Student Association president Megan Fultz said she’d read the article and couldn’t see anything wrong with it.
If there are factual inaccuracies, that will have to get sorted out, she said. " The Uniter is entitled to publish opinion pieces, and as far as I can tell, that’s what this is," said Fultz.
The university said it was named in the lawsuit in error.
"The university exercises no control whatsoever over the Uniter’s actions, editorial content, reporters or editorial board," a spokesman said in a statement. "The university has neither administrative control over (publisher) Mouseland Press nor representation on its board of directors," he said. Mouseland Press Inc. is a private and independent company established in 2006.
In its bylaws, it sets out several principles of operation, including that: "Contributors to The Uniter should strive to provide fair, balanced and accurate information, as well as to equip themselves with evidence to support their published statements."