Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s chief of staff, Dean French, has made good on a threat to launch a defamation lawsuit over posts made on social media by Randy Hillier, the maverick MPP ejected from the governing Progressive Conservative caucus.
In a statement of claim filed in court, Mr. French alleges the long-time Eastern Ontario MPP has “narcissistically attempted to portray himself as some type of victim or crusader” in a “baseless” campaign against Mr. French that is “fueled by a misguided personal vendetta and grudge”, and aims to make the Premier’s key aide a “scapegoat” for Mr. Hillier’s exile from caucus. None of the allegations have been tested in court.
Mr. French’s court filing says he is seeking $100,000 from Mr. Hillier in damages. But the document pledges that Mr. French would donate any award to a Big Brothers and Big Sisters charity in the MPP’s riding.
Mr. Hillier’s office referred questions to his lawyer, Asher Honickman, who said the MPP would be filing a defence in the case soon: “The claim is going to be defended vigorously.” Gavin Tighe, Mr. French’s lawyer, declined to comment.
Mr. Tighe had previously sent a libel notice to the now-independent MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, warning him to retract and apologize for a series of Twitter posts made April 11.
As outlined in court documents, Mr. Hillier claimed on Twitter that the e-mail domain deanfrench.ca, implicated in an alleged voter-fraud scheme in Alberta, was owned by Mr. French. Mr. Hillier also alleged the Premier’s chief of staff ordered the destruction of PC leadership ballots after Mr. Ford’s narrow March, 2018, win. Mr. French says both allegations are false.
On April 12, Mr. Hillier removed the posts from his Twitter account and apologized for one of his “erroneous” tweets, saying the ownership of the e-mail domain “cannot be determined.” This didn’t satisfy Mr. French, who filed his statement of claim on April 29.
Absent from Mr. Hillier’s apology, the statement of claim maintains, is the allegation about the ballots, even though the former president of the PC Party says Mr. French had nothing to do with them.
The statement of claim also points to other comments from Mr. Hillier, including his claim that Mr. French created a “culture of fear and intimidation” in caucus. The claim further cites Mr. Hillier’s “unsupported allegations of ‘possible illegal and unregistered lobbying.’ "
In March, Mr. Hillier said he raised unspecified allegations of possible illegal lobbying by advisers to the Premier to Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner. Mr. Ford has vehemently denied any allegations of illegal lobbying.
The 61-year-old Mr. Hillier was suspended from caucus in February after allegedly saying “yada yada yada” to parents upset over autism funding, something he denies. He blamed his exile on tensions with Mr. French and Chris Froggatt, a lobbyist and chairman of Mr. Ford’s election readiness committee. Mr. Hillier was later permanently ejected for allegedly skipping caucus meetings and taking his complaints about the government to the media.