Former Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart says he feels relieved but not vindicated after a B.C. Supreme Court judge ordered the NPA president and six members of the civic party to pay him more than $100,000 to cover legal costs associated to a failed defamation lawsuit.
Justice Wendy A. Baker said in her ruling released Tuesday that David Mawhinney, Christopher Wilson, David Pasin, Phyllis Tang, Angelo Isidorou, Federico Fuoco and Wesley Mussio must pay Stewart “full indemnity costs,” which the former mayor said totals close to $150,000.
“I feel more relief than vindication,” Stewart told Glacier Media Wednesday. “It seemed to me like just a completely crass political move by the NPA, and it had a significant negative impact on my life and [my wife’s] life.”
Added Stewart: “Maybe when the line of credit is paid down, the bad smell will go away.”
The case dates back to a civil claim the NPA launched against Stewart in response to a news release he issued as mayor Jan. 28, 2021.
The release said, in part: “Continuing media reports about the extreme views of Non-Partisan Association board members, including open support for hate groups, are deeply troubling and must be fully denounced and publicly condemned by NPA leaders.”
In their claim, Mawhinney and the six others denied the allegations and argued Stewart did not independently verify the contents of news articles that appeared in The Tyee, Vancouver Sun and Province, which revealed how some members of the NPA’s board had far-right political leanings.
A focal point of the reporting was on Wilson, a former bureau chief of the far-right Rebel Media founded by Ezra Levant, and Isidorou, who was featured in a photograph at a pro-Trump protest in 2017 in Vancouver.
Isidorou was wearing a red Make America Great Again baseball cap made popular by former U.S. president Donald Trump and flashing a hand gesture associated with “white power” extremists. The photograph was taken by photojournalist Jennifer Gauthier.
Isidorou announced his resignation the day after Stewart’s news release, telling Glacier Media at the time that he resigned because he planned to take legal action against The Tyee and Postmedia — which publishes the Sun and Province — for articles posted on their websites and in print.
Dismissed defamation lawsuit
In a July 2022 ruling, the same judge — Baker — dismissed the NPA’s defamation suit against Stewart, saying the seven plaintiffs did not establish “the harm suffered, or likely to be suffered as a result of Mr. Stewart’s expression, is sufficiently serious that the public interest in permitting the proceeding to continue outweighs the public interest in protecting the expression.”
Baker said concerns with the leadership of the NPA were clearly of interest to a segment of society in 2020 and 2021, as evidenced by the multiple news outlets reporting on the issue. She said some articles reported on concerns within the NPA membership itself as to a perceived right-wing shift in the party’s board.
“Whether those statements or perceptions are true or not, I find that some parts of the community would have a genuine interest in receiving the information on the subject of the political views of the NPA board in 2020 and 2021,” Baker said.
At the same time, Baker said she agreed with the plaintiffs that “these words tend to lower the reputation of the NPA board within the eyes of a reasonable person.” She also said she was satisfied the claim is “legally tenable and is supported by evidence that is reasonably capable of belief.”
In Tuesday’s ruling, Baker outlined several attempts by the NPA plaintiffs to prevent Stewart from obtaining a lawyer of his choice because of perceived conflicts. David Sutherland ended up acting on behalf of Stewart during the legal proceedings.
“While the claims of conflict of interest were never determined, on the material provided to me it is difficult to see any merit in the position of the plaintiffs,” Baker said.
“The positions taken by the plaintiffs in relation to Mr. Stewart’s choice of counsel certainly increased Mr. Stewart’s costs, and caused him anxiety. I am satisfied that the plaintiffs took the positions they did for strategic reasons, in an inappropriate attempt to limit and thwart Mr. Stewart’s defence.”
NPA failed to win council seat
In the end, Stewart said, the issue he raised in the news release about the NPA board was never publicly dealt with, or condemned by the party’s sitting councillors at the time. The NPA failed to win any council seats in the Oct. 15, 2022 election.
Stewart lost to Ken Sim of ABC Vancouver, a new party which includes former NPA councillors Lisa Dominato, Rebecca Bligh and Sarah Kirby-Yung, who were all re-elected. Sim was the NPA’s mayoral candidate in the 2018 election.
Glacier Media sent emails Wednesday morning to Mawhinney, Mussio, Pasin and the NPA’s media relations address for a response to the court ruling, but had not received any replies before this story was posted.