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Green MP Blair Wilson suing Liberal operatives Marissen and Tyabji; Canwest and Province also named

The identity of an anonymous letter writer is at the centre of a legal challenge brought by Green Party candidate Blair Wilson. The former Liberal MP also alleges his father-in-law tried to sabotage his political career.

In a Sept. 24 statement of claim filed in B.C.'s Supreme Court, Wilson accused Vancouver Province reporter Elaine O'Connor, Liberal party officials Judeline "Judy" Tyabji Wilson and Mark Marissen, and Ontario blogger Steve Janke of circulating unsubstantiated claims about Wilson's 2006 election campaign.

The actions taken by the defendants were “done in a deliberate attempt to cause political and financial damage to the Defendant Blair Wilson,” the court filing claims

Wilson is pursuing damages for defamation and a legal denunciation of the defendants’ alleged conduct, his lawyer Jay Straith said. Trial proceedings might not begin for more than a year.

Province editor-in-chief Wayne Moriarty said that Wilson’s allegations are baseless, and will go nowhere in court.

In January 2006, Wilson was elected as the Liberal candidate for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country.

In October 2006, an anonymous letter written to the Commissioner of the Canada Elections Act put forward eight charges against Wilson that suggested the candidate “wilfully misled Elections Canada,” during his 2006 campaign.

The Province quoted that letter on Oct. 28 in a story headlined “West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast MP has unpaid debts, allegations of improper campaign spending.” The Province article also quoted Wilson’s father-in-law, Bill Lougheed, who claimed Wilson owed him $2.1 million in outstanding debts.

Wilson submitted his resignation from the Liberal caucus that same day, but remained in Parliament as an Independent MP.

Ontario blogger Steve Janke posted the anonymous letter on his site, “Angry in the Great White North,” in early November, which helped give the allegations a national audience, Straith said.

In February 2008, Lougheed took Wilson to court to reclaim the $2.1 million he said he was owed in the Oct. 28 Province story. One week later, Lougheed reduced his claim to $6,000. Wilson argued he legally didn’t owe anything, and filed a counterclaim in April.

Elections Canada conducted an inquiry into Wilson’s 2006 campaign spending, and determined that Wilson had committed several minor infractions, but no serious violations. The issue was settled with a compliance agreement last July. No charges were laid.

“The matters that are the subject of this compliance agreement were contained in an anonymous complaint, certain other parts of which the Commissioner, after review and examination, considered unfounded or insufficiently substantiated,” states the Elections Canada agreement.

On Sept. 24, Wilson filed an amendment to the counterclaim against his father-in-law that broadened the legal challenge to include Canwest Publishing and the Liberal Party of Canada.

What’s being disputed is the intent and identity of the anonymous letter writer that started it all.

In his statement of claim, Wilson alleged that Lougheed tried to misappropriate funds from Lougheed's late wife’s Norma’s estate after she passed away in 2007. According to the claim, when the former Liberal candidate made inquiries into the matter, Lougheed threatened retaliation.

Wilson alleges in the counterclaim that his father-in-law’s company transferred $185,000 to a software company founded and run by Judi Tyabji Wilson on Aug. 20, 2007. Tyabji is also a Federal Liberal Party vice president in Blair Wilson’s West Vancouver riding. (The two Wilsons are not related.)

MP Wilson alleges in the filing that after receiving the money, Tyabji contacted Liberal campaign co-chair Mark Marissen to discuss how they could “launch media attacks” that would be damaging to MP Wilson’s character.

The document specifically accuses Tyabji of writing the Oct. 24 letter to Elections Canada and then passing it on to Marissen, Janke and Vancouver Province reporter Elaine O’Connor.

“It used to be you would say ‘follow the paper trail,’” Straith said. “In this day and age it’s not so much a paper trail as an ‘ether-trail.’”

The Province’s editor-in-chief called the anonymous letter that was quoted in the Oct. 28 story a “red herring.”

“The anonymous report was only one little pebble on the mountain of evidence we already had,” Moriarty told The Tyee. “We could have gone with the story a week before the letter ever arrived.”

Moriarty said the paper is aware of the writer’s identity. He estimated that 100 people contacted the Province newsroom with stories about Blair Wilson’s misconduct.

“The moment we started to investigate this story and word got out we were asking questions to various people, our phone didn’t stop ringing,” he said.

Moriarty said he stands by the facts in the story “100 per cent” and referred to the article as one of the most “seamless” pieces of journalism he had ever seen.

A spokesperson for Tyabji said she would not comment on the legal challenge. Calls to the Marissen and Lougheed’s company were not returned.

Asked what kind of relationship Wilson has with his father-in-law, Straith joked: “They’re not having warm friendly thanksgiving dinners planned – that’s the best way to put it.”

Geoff Dembicki is a staff reporter for The Hook.

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