OTTAWA — Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin is turning to his supporters with cap in hand to defend himself against a $5-million libel lawsuit.
The MP launched a new website Monday, www.patmartindefencefund.ca, to solicit donations to cover the anticipated $250,000 legal costs of the lawsuit.
Martin is being sued by RackNine, an Edmonton-based company that allows clients to record robotic messages to send by the hundreds or thousands to potential clients or voters. The company did a lot of work in the 2011 federal election, and was hired by an as yet unknown person who used the company’s technology to send a message directing voters to fake polling stations on election day.
Those robocalls are the subject of an investigation by Elections Canada, which has said RackNine is not being investigated and has been co-operating with the investigation. However during a news conference in February, Martin alleged RackNine was involved in the scheme.
He eventually issued a formal apology but the company’s officials said the apology wasn’t enough to undo the damage done to its reputation and is proceeding with the lawsuit.
Manitoba political science expert Paul Thomas said he can’t think of another circumstance where a politician sought donations to defend themselves against a libel suit. However, that may be because most politicians are careful enough to deliver their jibes from the legal safety of the House of Commons or their provincial legislatures.
Thomas said it’s unlikely the suit or the appeal for donations will have much impact on Martin politically. He said people predisposed to like Martin because of his maverick nature and outspoken commentary will be the most likely donors. Those who already dislike Martin for the same reasons — including those who also count themselves as NDP supporters — will keep their money away.
Martin said the reaction thus far has been good, with about 50 people making donations of between $20 and $100 each in the first 24 hours.
The House of Commons may fund up to $200 per hour for legal costs but not until the case has concluded and it is dependent on the outcome.
Any money raised that isn’t used for the legal defence fund will be passed on to the Children’s Wish Foundation or the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
There is nothing illegal about Martin raising money to defend himself but the funds cannot be solicited as donations to him as an MP or the NDP.
Martin cleared the fundraising plan with Elections Canada, the Parliamentary ethics commissioner and the Canada Revenue Agency. The donations are going into an independent trust fund, managed by independent trustees and overseen by a chartered accountant who will audit the books to ensure all the donations go where it is claimed.
The website makes clear donations are not tax deductible because Martin’s defence fund is not a registered charity.