Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale has served Mayor Rob Ford with a libel notice over comments the mayor made during a televised interview earlier this week.
Mr. Dale published a statement on the Star’s website Thursday saying he served the notice against both the mayor and Vision TV – which aired the broadcast – as the first step of a defamation lawsuit. He’s asking the mayor to retract the “false insinuation that I am a pedophile,” his statement read.
“It had become clear to me that, if I had done nothing, the mayor would make his smears some sort of political talking point,” Mr. Dale wrote. “His comments to [Conrad] Black were no one-time slip; they seemed to be the first shots in a bewildering campaign against my good name.”
A process server delivered the legal document to the mayor inside his office at City Hall at about 5:30 p.m. The lawyer for Mr. Dale, Iris Fischer, said her client now has three months to serve a statement of claim.
Star editor Michael Cooke told The Globe Thursday that Mr. Dale has the full support of the newspaper – including with legal costs – in suing the mayor. “It’s the worst thing you can say about a man,” Mr. Cooke said.
During the Monday night interview with Conrad Black that aired on Vision TV, Mr. Ford described a May, 2012, incident where he confronted Mr. Dale in a public space behind the mayor’s house.
“He’s taking photos of little kids,” Mr. Ford told Mr. Black in the interview. “I don’t want to say that word, but you start thinking ‘What’s this guy all about.’” On Tuesday, when urged by councillors to apologize, Mayor Ford told reporters he stood by his words.
In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Dale called the mayor’s account of the May incident “categorically false.”
“I was there to research a story about a mayor making a rare request to buy public land,” he told The Globe. “His kids were nowhere in sight. I saw no children. More importantly, after I offered to let police go through the phone, they saw no pictures whatsoever from that night.”
The libel notice itself describes Mr. Ford’s comments as “vicious libel of Mr. Dale. In its plain and ordinary meaning, Rob Ford is calling Mr. Dale a paedophile.”
The document goes on to demand both ZoomerMedia (which owns Vision TV) and Mr. Ford “apologize to Mr. Dale – publicly, abjectly, unreservedly and completely – if they wish to even begin to undo the harm caused by the broadcast of Mr. Ford’s outrageous statements.”
In a statement posted on its radio station’s website on Friday, ZoomerMedia said it would not comment until officials seek legal advice.
“As there is now the threat of legal action, ZoomerMedia will not be making a statement until such time as we can consult with our attorneys to consider the allegations and determine next steps.”
Mr. Black said Mr. Dale was on thin ice with the action.
“If the Star goes to court with this turkey, they’ll be killed,” he said in an email to the Canadian Press late Thursday. “They raised the pedophilia question; Ford didn’t.”
Mr. Black declined to discuss the matter further or elaborate on previous comments that Mr. Dale might have a case because it was now a legal action.
Mayor Ford left his office about an hour after being served, and did not stop to talk to reporters.
The mayor’s brother Councillor Doug Ford told reporters he doesn’t think Mr. Dale has grounds to sue. “He didn’t say anything,” he told reporters. “He can sue people all day long. Can they stand up in court? No. My personal opinion.”
He went on to describe Mr. Dale’s actions as “reckless,” saying “You can’t be going into some guy’s backyard, especially the mayor’s backyard, have the seniors that live beside him come over and say ‘there is some guy standing on whatever, over your fence taking pictures.’ That’s what they told Rob.”
With reports from Marcus Gee, Jill Mahoney and The Canadian Press