Date set for Councillor defamation hearing: Brent vs. Nishikawa

(November 16 8pm BRACEBRIDGE) Former Township of Muskoka Lakes Councillor Ron Brent says he’s tired of waiting for an apology from Muskoka Lakes Councillor Ruth Nishikawa: he is now asking the Court to rule that she defamed him.

A motion for summary judgment in favour of Brent was filed last week to the Court in Bracebridge and a hearing is set for December 14, 2015. It asks the Court to find that Nishikawa was wrong when she alleged Brent wrongfully disclosed information from a closed session of Township of Muskoka Lakes (TML) Council to a member of the public. Sharing information from closed session is a breach of the Township Code of Conduct.

“If the Councillor would just apologize, this wouldn’t be a matter for a judge to decide,” says Brent. “But she refuses to do so, she refuses to apologize publicly; and for me, it’s a matter of my integrity.”

That’s important to Brent who says it should be important to others as well. “No Councillor or anyone for that matter should be allowed to malign another person untruthfully and without repercussions.”

In his lawsuit filed originally in August 2014, Brent claimed Nishikawa defamed him in an email on June 15, 2014 to Bala businesswoman Patricia Arney, an email that Nishikawa also addressed to the District of Muskoka Chair and District Councillors and to the Mayor and all TML Council members. Arney had written Councillors expressing her concern about a discussion at Council regarding permits for Bala Falls.

In her email response, Nishikawa stated that the information Arney was asking about was referred to during “closed session of council”; that the information came from a Councillor who stormed out of the closed meeting; and that said Councillor had declared a conflict of interest on the matter [Bala Falls] for nearly two years.

The affidavit filed in the present Court proceeding states that Arney knew Nishikawa was making a serious allegation against Brent and knew it was not true as Arney had not spoken or had any communication with Brent after that meeting. Arney immediately confirmed to Councillor Nishikawa that she was mistaken. Arney also contends that the only information she had about the closed session of council came from Nishikawa herself in her email. Brent states Nishikawa defamed him further by suggesting a conflict of interest on his part when he has no pecuniary interest in the development of Bala Falls.

Brent also argues the information that Nishikawa contends was only discussed in closed session was discussed in a public meeting on June 13, 2014 – a discussion he points out is confirmed by TML minutes of the meeting that occurred two days before Nishikawa’s email.

According to the motion for judgment, Brent is seeking $50,000.00 in punitive damages to be paid as a donation in his name to the Muskoka Lakes Nursing Station in Port Carling, and that the damages be paid by Nishikawa personally, not by the Township or any entity on behalf of the Township. He is also seeking costs of up to $7,500.00.

When contacted for comment, Nishikawa responded in an email that she had been advised by the municipal solicitor handling the file that “he will be dealing directly with the courts as is the usual practice,” adding, “it would not be appropriate to debate this through the media.”

If Nishikawa is relying on Township errors and omissions insurance to cover any costs, sources say the deductible could be in the tens of thousands alone, not to mention the potential for an increase in premiums should the court decide Nishikawa was in the wrong.

December 14 is also the hearing date set to hear a request for an injunction against a proposed land lease by the Township to Swift River Energy Limited, the company proposing to build a hydro plant at the north Bala Falls. SavetheBalaFalls.com filed its request for a hearing the last Thursday, the day before the land lease issue was expected to be voted on by Township in closed session. No decision was made on the lease, which may come back before Council on December 11.

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