RDEK supports Taft’s defamation lawsuit liability request

Invermere mayor asking for liability coverage in urban deer cull defamation lawsuit.

The RDEK board of directors is supporting an application from Gerry Taft to a municipal insurance association asking for liability insurance coverage following his involvement in a lawsuit against an Invermere urban deer protester.

In April, Taft was sued by Devin Kazakoff over alleged defamatory comments made on the internet, and was ordered by Justice Gordon Weatherill to pay $75,000 a month later.

The RDEK board voted to send a letter in support of Taft’s neutral coverage evaluation application, requesting that the Municipal Insurance Association of BC (MIABC) extend its liability coverage to include the defamation lawsuit.

The RDEK board wants the letter to point out that it believes Taft was acting in his function as Mayor of the District of Invermere when the defamatory remarks were made and that he made an error in legal terminology, but was not acting maliciously.

In order to extend the coverage, the MIABC must be satisfied that Taft was acting in his function as mayor in making the defamatory remarks and was not acting with malice.

In his ruling, Justice Weatherill said that “almost every aspect of this case demonstrates the persistent malice of the defendant towards the plaintiff.”

However, according to an RDEK document, Taft has received a recent legal opinion reviewing the court ruling that suggests he ‘arguably had a duty or interest as the Mayor of a neighbouring community, also involved in the deer cull controversy, to ventilate his views for the reciprocal benefit of voters and other readers of the story and related posts’ and further suggests that ‘the findings of express malice on the part of the defendant is not sustainable’.

Chief Administration Officer Shawn Tomlin, who authored the Request for Decision document, said ‘the case could be a potential precedent for BC local government elected officials to be held personally responsible for public comments in relation to relevant local government issues, based on the evaluation of whether they were acting outside of the functions of their office.’

The lawsuit goes back to the issues of urban deer culls in East Kootenay communities dating back to 2011.

Kazakoff, who has been involved with two anti-deer cull organizations, was arrested by police following the destruction of two deer traps in Kimberley in 2014. He pleaded guilty to a single count of mischief under $5,000 in connection with the incident, was given a 30-day conditional discharge and was fined just under $2,800.

The defamatory remarks were left by Taft in the comment section of a news article on a local online news website, alleging that Kazakoff was a ‘convicted felon’ because of the Kimberley incident.

During the trial, Taft told the court that he equated the word ‘felon’ to a criminal, someone guilty of a crime who had broken the law and that he did not understand the distinction between a conviction and a conditional discharge.