Whether a local man will have to pay damages for slandering Skeena-Bulkley Valley MLA Robin Austin at a provincial election all candidates forum three years ago is now in the hands of a supreme court justice.
Austin’s civil case against Jim Lynch wrapped up in court here last week after nine days of testimony from numerous witnesses.
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.
During the nine day trial, Lynch admitted that he had misunderstood the information and retracted his allegation, as he had done already. This confirmed the findings of a previous government investigation.
“I knew about the situation about the girl and what she had told me,” he said during questioning by his defence lawyer Gordon Crampton.
“I thought nobody represents her…these people don’t realize these things go on and I got up and thought ‘fine I’m going to ask him about whether he’s still a foster parent.’”
Several times during the trial, the court heard an audio recording of Lynch’s allegations that indicated 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.
Austin 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.”
“When he gave his response ‘maybe I’ll see you in court,’ I said ‘please do.’ It’s natural for me to say. It’s just manners,” said Lynch, adding it was similar to saying thank you to someone.
When asked about his politics, Lynch told court he wasn’t a political person and didn’t follow politics or keep track of who was running for office.
This all candidates meeting was the first one he’d gone to and he just decided to go for something to do, he testified.
Also included in the case as a defendant was Mike Brousseau who ran as the Conservative candidate in the 2009 and 2013 provincial elections.
This involved evidence from 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.
Brousseau, who represented himself, said while testifying that he did not put Lynch up to ask the question.
He said the information that he had said might hurt Austin’s run for office was not the allegations that Lynch made.
Brousseau said he never got the chance to ask Austin the question he intended.
“The opportunity did not arise,” he said.
Austin’s lawyer Roger McConchie questioned Brousseau about his comments during his opening and closing speeches at the all candidates and played some audio where Brousseau said he did what he said and he was all about integrity.
“The reality is you carried out and did what you said to Mr. Brown what you were going to do, you had someone go to the mike and say something that was detrimental to Robin Austin’s running in office, isn’t that exactly what happened?” asked McConchie.
“No,” said Brousseau.
He said he didn’t hire a lawyer to defend him because he was innocent.
Austin’s lawyer Roger McConchie said damages would be awarded for injury to feelings, emotional distress and upset, and costs, and said considering other similar cases and the awards given that he was asking for damages in the amount of $125,000.
In closing statements, Lynch’s lawyer Gordon Crampton said often people look for patterns and explanations where they don’t exist and that’s what Austin was doing but it didn’t mean Lynch and Brousseau had conspired against him.
“It’s incomprehensible why Mr. Lynch did what he did,” said Crampton.
“There really is no good explanation for what he did.”
Crampton noted that afterward Lynch did apologize and retract his words – Austin did not accept the apology.
Brousseau said in his closing that he wants to be cleared and for his costs to be paid.
Mister Justice Robert Punnett did not give his decision last week and no definite date was offered for when he would.
According to one lawyer, typically these cases can take months for a verdict.