Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin has added a political opponent to a defamation lawsuit stretching back to the May 2013 provincial election campaign.
The original lawsuit, filed against Terrace resident Jim Lynch for comments made at an April 2013 all candidates meeting in which he alleged Austin abused a foster child, has been amended to include Michael Brousseau, the BC Conservative candidate who ran against Austin in that election and also in the previous 2009 provincial election.
The amended suit now says Brousseau “incited, assisted and/or encouraged the defendant Lynch …” in the comments made at the April 30, 2014 all candidates meeting held at the Terrace Pentecostal Assembly.
This then makes Brousseau a “joint publisher of the April 30, 2013 statements,” Austin’s suit indicates.
The original suit filed against Lynch included a “John Doe” who was then described as Brousseau in the amended suit, filed Oct. 2, 2014.
Lynch, in a statement contained in a question to Austin and included as a transcript of comments made at the meeting in the court documents, said he had gotten to know a girl who was once a foster child of Austin and his wife.
He said she told him of sexual abuse and when asked why she did not go to the authorities, she wondered who would believe her.
“I really felt for the girl because we got to [be] buds,” the transcript of Lynch’s comments continued.
On May 10, 2013, Lynch issued a formal retraction and apology to Austin through his lawyer, according to court documents which detail a process where Lynch said he investigated the claim further and “determined that the allegations were totally false.”
“I unreservedly withdraw all my remarks about Mr. Austin,” continues the apology, filed as part of Lynch’s response to the suit.
In the original suit, filed Jan. 9, 2014, Austin says Lynch’s comments characterize him as a sexual predator and not worthy of his standing in the community and of his position as a public official.
He’s claiming general, aggravated, punitive and special damages against Lynch and Brousseau.
Speaking today, Brousseau said he could not have acted with Lynch because he does not know him and has only encountered him on two occasions – once at the all candidates meeting and once when he knocked on a door that turned out to be where Lynch lived.
“We talked for about a minute and I asked him if he would vote for me and he said he was non-partisan so I said thank you and went on to the next door,” said Brousseau.
He said his inclusion by Austin in the suit in a sense continues the 2013 election and even the previous 2009 provincial election when he was also the Conservative candidate.
“Oh … sparring,” said Brousseau. “Basically we’ve been sparring back and forth. This is one way for him to poke at me.”
He challenged Austin to produce the evidence he and Lynch acted in concert.
“He’s got nothing,” Brousseau added.
Speaking in Austin’s place, John Heaney, the chief of staff to NDP Official Opposition leader John Horgan, said Brousseau foreshadowed the all candidates meeting that morning in a radio interview.
“He says on tape in a radio interview ‘we’re going to drop a bomb on Robin Austin tonight’,” said Heaney.
Heaney added that there was an apparent familial relationship between Brousseau and Lynch.
Also speaking this afternoon, Lynch said that while he knew Brousseau’s mother, he’s never had any kind of relationship with Brousseau.
“I’ve never met the man before,” said Lynch. “I knew his mum, but that’s all. I never had anything to do with Michael.”
He denied the suggestion that he and Brousseau acted together, or that he was motivated by politics.
“The fact that (Austin) would bring something up like this other… is inconceivable,” he said, adding that he was apolitical due to his position as coroner for 23 years.
He expects the suit will have to work its way through the court system.
“I thought that it would’ve been settled (after issuing the retraction and apology), and I was very surprised, I still am,” he said of the civil suit brought against him.
“Austin believes its important for the people of Terrace to understand what happened at that time. I can’t call him wrong,” said Heaney. “The allegation that was made by Mr. Lynch was of the most heinous, criminal activity.”
Brousseau also says NDP Official Opposition leader John Horgan’s office has told BC Conservative party leader Dan Brooks that if Brousseau would agree not to run in the next provincial election, the lawsuit against him would go away.
“It was perhaps not in those exact words but that was the inference of what was being said,” said Brousseau.
But Heaney said Brooks indicated that Brousseau would not be running again.
“So how could Mr. Austin be using this court case to silence or chill someone who says they’re not going to be a player in the game anymore,” asked Heaney.
A press release by Brooks released earlier today alleges Austin is using the lawsuit to “silence or punish a former political opponent” and asks Horgan to advise Austin to withdraw his lawsuit.
That’s not going to happen, said Heaney.
“Mr. Horgan is not actively involved, he didn’t ask Mr. Austin to start this, he wasn’t leader when he started it two years ago, but he’s not going to order him to stop it,” he said. “We’re very sympathetic to Mr. Brooks in his position. It’s not today’s Conservative party that was at all involved in the alleged activity, this didn’t happen on Mr. Brooks’ watch, but it’s a lawsuit that contains very, very serious allegations about two individuals in Terrace during the last election campaign.”
Brooks is politicizing a private matter, said Heaney, noting that Austin is paying for the suit out of his own pocket.
“Mr. Brooks is trying to use a public forum or political pressure to make Mr. Horgan force Mr. Austin to withdraw a lawsuit right at the time that Mr. Brousseau is being required to tell his story and give his version,” said Heaney. “We think the truth should come out. If Mr. Austin turns out to be wrong, if the counsel he is getting from his lawyers and their view of case turns out to be wrong or not accepted by the courts then Mr. Brousseau will get damages from Mr. Austin.”
The allegations brought up at the all candidates forum by Lynch were “heinous,” said Heaney. “If it turns out that it was done in concert and in support of someone who is a registered candidate for a political party – that’s a pretty serious thing and that’s what Mr. Austin has asked the court to decide.”
Austin won the 2013 election with 5,102 votes compared to 4,739 for Liberal Carol Leclerc, 735 for Brousseau and 254 for another candidate who did not appear at the all candidates meeting.
Here are the full court documents: