MLA civil suit enters second week in Terrace, B.C. court

Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin suing for remarks made at 2013 all candidates meeting

A VISIBLY angry Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin spoke forcefully from the witness stand here late last week as his civil suit for slander against a local man continues.

Austin is in BC Supreme Court here suing Jim Lynch who accused Austin of molesting a child he and his wife were fostering during an April 30, 2013 all candidates meeting leading up to the May 2013 provincial election.

The allegation came during an audience question and answer period when Lynch said that when he was driving a foster child to church on one occasion, he asked her why she had left her previous home. He said she left because of sexual abuse and Lynch told those at the all candidates meeting that she was referring to Austin’s home.

“The fact is he was using my name in the same sentence as ‘child molester,’” said Austin from the stand in answering a question from Lynch’s lawyer, Gordon Crampton.

“It was a horrible political attack. It’s the worst thing you can say to any man. The way I took it was the way the audience took it. That’s why we’re here now,” said Austin.

An audio recording of the Lynch allegations was played in court here last week and indicate there was silence after he spoke, followed by several audience members saying “what” or making other comments before the forum moderator asked Austin if he wanted to answer.

He angrily denied abusing any foster child and said maybe he would see Lynch in court to which Lynch, a former insurance broker and provincial coroner, replied “please do.”

Immediately afterward Lynch exited the location of the all candidates forum, the main sanctuary of the Terrace Pentecostal Assembly.

Austin’s son, Graeme, did confront Lynch while a supporter followed to see where Austin was going.

Austin’s wife, Colleen, and an adopted daughter who were visibly shaken also left the forum room.

The suit is continuing this week and last week and in addition to Austin’s testimony, the court heard from a number of witnesses who provided background as to how the all candidates meeting was conducted and events before and after Lynch made his allegation.

The court also heard that shortly after the April 30, 2013 all candidates meeting, Lynch apologized and retracted his words in a letter sent to Austin through his lawyer but that did not dissuade Austin from filing his suit.

“You saw Mr. Lynch’s apology and retraction and you found it unacceptable,” asked Crampton.

Austin said yes.

“The letter indicates Mr. Lynch was misled. You said you did not accept that,” said Crampton.

“I don’t accept that, no,” said Austin.

Crampton asked Austin if what Lynch had done was unforgivable to which Austin agreed.

“My reputation could only be restored by having an independent person hear the facts and clear my name,” said Austin, adding the independent person was the Supreme Court Justice hearing the case, Mr. Justice Robert Punnett.

Austin added that despite what the outcome in court is, there will still be some people who will wonder if he abused a child or not.

Austin, who was first elected in 2005 and re-elected in 2009 and again in 2013, is also suing Michael Brousseau, who ran against him in 2009 and 2013 as a B.C. Conservative candidate.

Austin is alleging that Brousseau and Lynch acted in concert.

Specifically, in his suit filings, Austin is saying Brousseau “incited, assisted and/or encouraged the defendant Lynch…”

That’s based in part on a local radio interview given by Brousseau before the all candidates meeting.

The reporter, Jonathan Brown who then worked for CFNR, made a copy of the interview which was played in court.

The recording was of Brousseau saying he had found out information about Austin’s past that might be detrimental to his run for office and he was going to ask a question at the forum and see how things went after that.

Austin said because Brousseau had also run as a B.C. Conservative candidate in the 2009 election, he knew the all-candidates format was for media and the audience to ask questions of the candidates and not for the candidates to ask each other questions.

“So when I heard the tape, my assumption was if you had a beef, some dirt on me, it was going to be done (asked) by someone else,” said Austin.

Lynch and Brousseau, in earlier filings, have denied knowing each other.

Brousseau has said he only encountered Lynch once before in that 2013 period and that was during a door-knocking tour of a neighbourhood.

Brousseau said that Lynch answered the door at one of the homes.

Overall in his suit, Austin says the allegations made characterize him as a sexual predator and not worthy of his standing in the community and of his position as a public official.

The MLA is claiming general, aggravated, punitive and special damages against both Lynch and Brousseau.

While Lynch has legal representation, Brousseau does not. Austin is being represented by Vancouver lawyer Roger McConchie.

The court proceedings began April 11 and are expected to continue all of this week.

Altogether nine witnesses were called last week.

In his opening remarks, Crampton said this was a unique case.

“It’s unusual for there to be a case of defamation where after a statement is made, that is answered immediately by the person allegedly defamed, and this is what we have…The other thing is it’s unusual to have audio so we know exactly what was said to each party,” said Crampton.