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In a precedent-setting move, Toronto council has agreed to use public money to pay for a local politician's "one-off" defamation lawsuit against a community tabloid.

However, council rejected a universal policy that would give all councillors the same option.

Members voted 25-5 yesterday to cover up to $25,000 in legal expenses for Councillor Sandra Bussin, who is considering suing the publisher of Ward 32 News. An independent lawyer for the city said the tabloid's May edition and related online videos defamed Ms. Bussin.

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It's the first time in Toronto's history that taxpayers' money has been offered up to fund a claim.

While insurance covers councillors' legal fees when they defend themselves against lawsuits, politicians are normally on their own if they want to launch suits.

"I'm dealing with what I believe is a heavily financed attack on my credibility as a councillor," said Ms. Bussin, who has yet to file a claim, but has retained noted libel lawyer Julian Porter.

The tabloid published claims Ms. Bussin was in the pocket of a developer involved in a small but contentious project in the Beaches.

Ms. Bussin said the allegations were completely false, that she did everything in her power to stop the development, and that "to have that [newsletter]come out, it was just the last straw for me."

Ms. Bussin must consult council on costs beyond the $25,000 already approved.

Publisher LeRoy St. Germaine laughed off claims he has moneyed backers.

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He said he is a "cranky old senior citizen" with no assets and he will be forced to get legal aid to defend himself.

Mr. St. Germaine said that it is a "case of David and Goliath" and an abuse of taxpayers' money.

Mayor David Miller's executive committee had sought a blanket indemnification policy that would permit councillors to take on their most libellous critics on the public dime, but it was rejected by council 26-2 in favour of a case-by-case approach.

"We shouldn't be able to use a taxpayer's money to sue a taxpayer," Councillor Mike Feldman said.

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