POLITICS

Manitoba aboriginal leader files lawsuit over teacher's social media comments

01/09/2015 02:34 EST | Updated 03/11/2015 05:59 EDT
WINNIPEG - A Manitoba aboriginal leader's lawsuit against a high school teacher is alleging defamation against an entire race of people.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is suing Brad Badiuk, a technology teacher at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, over comments posted on Badiuk's Facebook page.

The comments, posted under Badiuk's account, accused First Nations people of being lazy and seeking free money from non-aboriginals. Some of the comments were directed specifically at Nepinak and suggested he wanted to "get his hands" on other people's money.

A statement of claim filed on Nepinak's behalf Friday in Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench alleges the comments have hurt Nepinak's reputation and have defamed all aboriginals.

"The entire statement ... was understood to mean that 'the white man/Europeans have been overly generous to aboriginal people and that members of the former group have done more than should be required of them," the lawsuit reads.

"The libel against a race exposes aboriginal peoples to ridicule, hatred and contempt by encouraging non-aboriginal people to believe they are being taken advantage of."

The statement of claim contains allegations that have not been proven in court. It seeks unspecified damages.

Badiuk was placed on administrative leave last month after the Facebook comments came to light. His page was taken down and attempts to reach him have been unsuccessful.

The Winnipeg School Division is still investigating and declined to comment Friday. The division, which is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, said in December that part of its investigation would entail determining whether Badiuk himself had posted the comments.

Nepinak's lawyer, Corey Shefman, said suing for libel against an entire race is unusual and is based on a section of the provincial Defamation Act.

"As far as I can tell ... Manitoba appears to be the only jurisdiction in Canada that allows this sort of claim," Shefman said Friday.

"As a representative of his people, elected to represent First Nations in Manitoba, Grand Chief Nepinak feels that it's appropriate that he brings this action."

The Facebook comments were denounced on social media when they came to light.

Murray Sinclair, head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, wrote on his personal Facebook page that the comments were especially hurtful if they did come from a teacher.

"Any aboriginal child in his classroom would know almost instantly that he does not like them or their family, or where they come from or their leaders, or their heroes or their sense of self," Sinclair said.