The judge in the trial of an Invermere man suing the mayor of Invermere (and BC NDP candidate in Columbia-River Revelstoke) has found for the plaintiff.
On Thursday, May 5, the Honourable Mr. Justice G. C. Weatherill in the Supreme Court of BC, awarded Devin Kazakoff a total of $75,000 in damages, plus special costs for indemnity for legal fees, in Kazakoff’s defamation trial against Gerry Taft.
Kazakoff, a member of an anti-deer cull organization, was suing Gerry Taft for defamation in response to remarks the mayor made in the comment section of a press release regarding urban deer posted on the news website e-Know.
“The circumstances of the lawsuit have been very difficult for me,” Kazakoff said in a press release Thursday. “While I am obviously pleased to have had my reputation vindicated by such an award, and by the Court’s thorough reasons for judgement, I am also pleased to have this behind me now.”
Kazakoff was one of four names at the bottom of the press release to contact for further information, however, Taft wrote that Kazakoff had signed off on it, calling him a ‘convicted felon’.
“Signed by the same Devon Kazzakoff [sic] who was convicted of tampering with and destroying deer traps in Kimberley,” Taft allegedly wrote. “I wouldn’t be so quick to believe convicted felons who have extreme positions on animal rights issues and who do not respect the decisions of democratically elected local governments doing what the majority of their citizens want.”
Taft’s comment referenced an incident where Kazakoff and an associate were charged with mischief under $5,000 for vandalizing and destroying two deer traps in Kimberley in 2014. Kazakoff pleaded guilty to the offence, was fined $2,700 and conditionally discharged.
Following the publication of the defamatory remarks, Kazakoff demanded an apology from Taft. Taft’s lawyer, Brent Desruisseaux, argued that his client’s comments of free expression based on a reasonable person’s understanding of legal terminology.
After a 12-day trial, the judge concluded that Taft’s remarks on the website were in fact defamatory in a 48-page judgement on the case.
“The plaintiff has proven that the words used were defamatory of him,” Justice Weatherhill wrote. “Accordingly, the burden shifts to the defendant to prove any defences including justification (truth), fair comment, qualified or absolute privilege or responsible communication.”
The judge ruled the defendant failed to prove the defence of justification, establish the defence of fair comment, prove the defence of qualified privilege, and “did not act responsibly when he published the January 13, 2016 post. The defence of responsible communication has not been established.”
Justice Weatherhill wrote that “on the whole of the evidence before me, the inescapable conclusion is that the defendant’s January 13, 2016 post was published with the intent to selectively attack the plaintiff’s credibility and reputation because of his previous opposition to and activism in respect of the deer cull decision.”
Justice Weatherhill awarded $50,000 in general damages, and $25,000 in aggravated damages. Hedeclined to award an punitive damages in the case.