Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi will not back down in the face of a $6-million defamation suit.
On Monday, Nenshi responded to a suit filed by developer Cal Wenzel who was secretly recorded last year discussing a plan to defeat members of city council in the recent October election. Documents filed in Court of Queen’s Bench allege Nenshi distorted Wenzel’s comments for political gain, even referring to Wenzel’s comments to a group of fellow Calgary developers as scene “out of the movie [The] Godfather.”
The video was leaked to the media in April. None of the allegations in the lawsuit have been proven in court.
“In my opinion, this type of lawsuit is very dangerous,” Nenshi said. “It is dangerous because it poses a very significant risk of chilling political discourse and freedom of speech in this country. These types of lawsuits will make it extremely difficult for council members to do their jobs. It could dissuade people from running for public office if they know that they might be the subject of costly and groundless litigation … That is why I must vigorously defend myself in this lawsuit.”
The video of Wenzel showed him telling developers which councillors he approved of and which ones he was supporting with campaign donations. At the time, Nenshi called for an investigation into whether there was any breach of election laws.
Wenzel later said he had made no secret of how unhappy he was about the governance in Calgary, but insisted he never requested or received a favour from any alderman. According to Wenzel’s statement of claim, “Nenshi ... developed an overarching civic election campaign strategy to smear Wenzel for political gain. Nenshi planned to use Wenzel as a foil to his political ambitions and aspirations, which were contingent on the election of a sufficient number of city councillors who shared and supported Nenshi’s political agenda.”
Nenshi is expected to be served Monday. As for legal costs and who pays the bill, Nenshi said the city treasurer has been asked to confirm whether “this matter is covered under its insurance policies.”
He added: “My parents taught me that if you have a problem with somebody, the first step is to sit down and discuss it. Mr. Wenzel and I have never had a discussion about his problems with the city or with me. To my knowledge he’s never asked for a meeting. I have always been willing and I continue to be willing to sit down with him anytime, anyplace and have a conversation. I think that would be a far better way to handle a complaint rather than running to the courts.”
The Wenzel suit is seeking $5-million in general damages and another $1-million in punitive, aggravated and exemplary damages.