A former top bureaucrat is suing the CBC for $800,000 over a story that alleged he used a "racket" to avoid paying $105,000 in sales taxes and duties on his 47-foot sailing boat, court documents show.
François Guimont, who recently retired as Canada's deputy minister of public safety, was featured in an investigative story in March that focused on luxury boats sold at Canadian marinas near the U.S. border, in the binational Lake Champlain area.
The CBC's flagship French-language investigative program, called Enquête, revealed that many of the boats are officially exported to the United States, meaning no Canadian tax is imposed by the sellers. The program also alleged that American authorities don't impose taxes or duties, because they are told the boats are only in the United States on a temporary basis, to be stored in Canada for the winter.
CBC journalist Marie-Maude Denis, who broke Quebec's construction scandal, referred in her story to the example of the Elysium, owned by Mr. Guimont. Asked on the television show whether he had paid sales taxes and other duties on his sailboat, Mr. Guimont answered that he "did exactly" what officials at Marina Gosselin asked him to do. He added that it would be up to the marina to explain its procedures.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail on Friday, Mr. Guimont said he paid taxes and duties on his sailboat two months after the show aired, in May of this year. He explained that when he bought the boat in 2014, he always intended to transfer it permanently from the United States to Collins Bay, on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario. He said he initially hoped to move the boat this summer, but that after experiencing a few difficulties, it will now go to a marina near Kingston, Ont., next year.
"At the time of the purchase, I knew I would pay taxes, that it was a question of time. It's been a year or two, and now the taxes are paid," Mr. Guimont said. "I had budgeted for that cost."
In his lawsuit against the CBC, which was filed in court in Ottawa in June, Mr. Guimont seeks $500,000 for defamation, $200,000 in aggravated damages and $100,000 in punitive damages.
The lawsuit alleges that the CBC unfairly depicted Mr. Guimont "as being a tax evader," as "someone trying to improperly influence a federal body" and as someone who purchased a sailing boat "without paying any sales tax and with no intention of paying sales tax."
Mr. Guimont decried the use of the words "scandal," "racket" and "avoidance" in the broadcast.
In its defence, which was filed in court this month, the CBC said the story aimed to raise "fiscal issues" of public interest related to the sale of luxury goods near the Canada-U.S. border.
Regarding Mr. Guimont's statement about his "intention" of paying the sales taxes, the CBC said its story was related to the "non-payment of sales taxes at the time of the purchase of the sail boat or within a given period once the good is exported."
Mr. Guimont told Ms. Denis in January that according to the procedures in place in Lake Champlain, "taxes are paid when the boat is brought back to Canada, if ever it is brought back to Canada," according to the CBC.
Mr. Guimont also said he was not the only person who had acted that way, explaining "the practice is well-known."
The CBC said Ms. Denis offered twice to provide her phone number to Mr. Guimont if he ever had anything else to add.
"I've answered to the best of my knowledge and in a transparent way, I have no other comment to make," Mr. Guimont told Ms. Denis, according to the CBC.
The CBC denied any wrongdoing and stated that it abided by the principle of "responsible" journalism, invoking a defence that has been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in libel cases.
"The CBC and Ms. Denis do not agree that Mr. Guimont suffered damages as stated in his claim," the CBC said in its response to the lawsuit.
The CBC story also showed an e-mail that was sent to Mr. Guimont in 2015 by the owners of Marina Gosselin, who raised fears that the Canada Border Services Agency was set to "stop allowing duty-free boats" back into Canada.
While recusing himself from the file, Mr. Guimont forwarded the e-mail to the head of the CBSA, where 24 officials quickly convened to discuss the matter raised by the then-deputy minister, according to the program.