A nearly decade-long legal fight between fashion mogul Peter Nygard and the CBC hit another roadblock Thursday, after a week-long preliminary hearing was bogged down in a fight over what the public should be allowed to hear.
At issue is a 2010 Fifth Estate documentary, Larger Than Life, that levelled serious allegations against Nygard and his treatment of staff and women.
Nygard filed a private prosecution against the public broadcaster and journalists Timothy Sawa, Morris Karp and Bob McKeown for defamatory libel, alleging they engaged in an international conspiracy to discredit him and his clothing empire.
The Winnipeg court heard testimony from just one witness — Alick Morrison, a Nygard-hired investigator — with much of the court’s time this week occupied by arguments for and against a publication ban, which was granted Thursday.
Earlier, provincial court Judge Larry Allen had twice rejected Nygard lawyer Jay Prober’s applications for such a ban, ruling it would defy the open-court principle.
On Thursday, Prober again applied for a publication ban, arguing transcripts of conversations recorded by Morrison could, if made public, prejudice Nygard’s right to a fair trial and turn the preliminary hearing into a "media circus."
"I think information that has been provided this morning is so salacious and so prejudicial that it could influence any potential juror. I think this is the kind of information that could potentially be so concerning to the public that the chances of a fair trial in the future might be affected." -Provincial court Judge Larry Allen
Nygard was born in Finland in 1941, moved to Manitoba as a child, and founded his eponymous apparel manufacturing company in Winnipeg in 1967.
"It is not the reputation of Mr. Nygard that is on consideration by this court, it is whether it is defamatory libel or not," Prober said.
Lawyer Bill Haight, who is representing the CBC in a separate civil suit and opposed a publication ban, argued Nygard "willingly" tendered the transcripts as an exhibit and knew he was "putting his reputation on the line."
"He understood when he got into this process he was walking into an open arena with public transparency," Haight said. "He started this knowing what he was getting into and is now saying that you have to put on the brakes."
Allen said allegations included in the transcripts persuaded him to rethink his position and imposed a ban prohibiting the publication of any evidence provided to the court.
"I think information that has been provided this morning is so salacious and so prejudicial that it could influence any potential juror," he said. "I think this is the kind of information that could potentially be so concerning to the public that the chances of a fair trial in the future might be affected."
Allen said it wasn’t a matter that Nygard’s personal interests could be damaged by publication of the evidence, but that other people could be discouraged from seeking similar relief through the courts.
"I think people in the future could look at this case and say, ‘I have no intention of exposing myself to what happened there,’" he said.
Morrison did not complete his testimony Thursday before his scheduled return to Scotland, resulting in the hearing being adjourned. New hearing dates have not been scheduled.
Updated on Thursday, September 19, 2019 at 8:40 PM CDT: Updates story