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Politics Ontario court rejects Guergis defamation suit against Harper, Tories

Helena Guergis shown duing the last federal election campaign where she ran as an independent in the riding of Simcoe-Grey. Photographed in her Angus, Ont. home on April 7 2011.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Superior Court of Ontario delivered an unmistakable message Friday to former Conservative cabinet minister Helena Guergis: You're still fired.

Judge Charles Hackland tossed out the $1.3-million defamation and conspiracy lawsuit launched by Ms. Guergis against Prime Minister Stephen Harper and others, ruling that the hiring and firing of cabinet ministers was beyond the court's jurisdiction — full stop.

Ms. Guergis was seeking damages for her highly public removal from cabinet, and ouster from the Conservative caucus, in 2010.

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"In this case, I find it plain and obvious that the actions of the prime minister, in relation to the removal of the plaintiff from cabinet, fall within the Crown prerogative," said the 21-page ruling.

Ms. Guergis's lawyer, Stephen Victor, said his client was "very disappointed" by the ruling.

"I have been instructed to appeal," Mr. Victor said.

The firing came amid lurid reports of meetings with prostitutes and allegations Ms. Guergis was caught up in criminal activity with her businessman husband Rahim Jaffer, himself a former top Conservative MP.

The RCMP later said it had no basis for charges against the pair.

Mr. Jaffer was found to have broken government lobbying rules by not registering as a lobbyist, and Ms. Guergis was rapped by the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner for writing on government letterhead to a local politician about a businessman in her riding. That businessman had been in talks with Mr. Jaffer about possible transactions.

A central allegation in Ms. Guergis's lawsuit was that she was defamed when Mr. Harper said publicly that he'd received serious allegations about her, and then again when a letter was sent to the RCMP citing allegations received by the Prime Minister's Office.

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But the court judgment says that the Crown prerogative to hire and fire cabinet members would be "rendered meaningless" if the Guergis suit was upheld.

"The prime minister would be required to answer, in court, for the political decisions he makes as to the membership of his cabinet," Judge Hackland wrote. "Crown privilege is an important principle of our legal system and it cannot be attacked collaterally by way of allegations of tortious conduct."

The ruling also agreed that booting Ms. Guergis out of the Conservative party caucus was covered by parliamentary privilege.

As for her allegations of a conspiracy among Mr. Harper, the Conservative party, its lawyer and several top political staffers, the judgment said they were "based on the plaintiff's removal from office as a minister of the Crown by the prime minister of Canada."

"The subject of this alleged conspiracy is conduct protected by the doctrine of Crown prerogative and is, therefore, beyond the jurisdiction of this court."

Ms. Guergis ran as an Independent in the 2011 federal election but finished third, losing the Simcoe-Grey seat in southwestern Ontario to Conservative Kellie Leitch.

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A spokesman for the prime minister said there would be no comment on the court ruling.

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