TORONTO — Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne sued the Opposition leader for defamation Monday, less than six months away from the June provincial election.
The legal action stems from comments Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown made in September, a day before Wynne testified as a witness at a trial in Sudbury, Ont., involving two provincial Liberals facing Election Act bribery charges.
Brown told reporters he hoped Wynne would give answers about the scandal "maybe when she stands trial" and went on to describe her as a "sitting premier, sitting in trial."
'Deliberate, malicious conduct'
The premier was not on trial and had waived parliamentary privilege in order to testify as a witness.
The Tory leader refused to apologize for the statements both after an initial letter from Wynne's lawyer and following a libel notice in October, saying he would "ignore her baseless legal threat." His lawyer has said the statements were not defamatory.
Wynne's legal team filed a statement of claim in court Monday that seeks $100,000 in general, aggravated, exemplary and punitive damages. Brown's statements harmed Wynne's reputation, they wrote.
"The deliberate, malicious conduct of the defendant in publishing the defamatory statements is part of an ongoing campaign engineered by the defendant and others to harm the plaintiff's reputation," Wynne's lawyers wrote.
"The defendant's egregious misconduct in publishing statements that he knew to be false, his ongoing refusal to retract these false statements, and his high-handed and oppressive conduct in stating to media and directly to the world at large that the plaintiff's complaints were baseless and would be ignored, all justify an award of aggravated, exemplary and punitive damages against the defendant."
Wynne's spokeswoman said the statement of claim was filed to preserve the premier's ability to continue with the legal case.
"We continue to remain hopeful that this issue can be resolved with an apology from Patrick Brown for his defamatory remarks," Jenn Beaudry wrote. "It should be that simple. However, if he continues to refuse to apologize we will have the ability to continue legal action."
Brown has not yet filed a statement of defence.
Progressive Conservative Bill Walker also made remarks in September suggesting the premier was under investigation and facing charges in connection with the Sudbury bribery trial. He apologized hours after receiving a letter from Wynne's lawyers.
"Mr. Walker's apology and retraction were widely reported in the media and there can be no doubt that the situation was extensively discussed by (Brown) and his staff," Wynne's lawyers wrote.
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"As a result, the defendant was fully aware that the Walker statements were false, and that Mr. Walker had retracted them and issued a public apology."
The two Liberals on trial in Sudbury were ultimately acquitted.
Wynne previously sued the former Progressive Conservative leader, Tim Hudak, and another Tory member of provincial parliament after the pair said she oversaw — and possibly ordered — the destruction of documents related to two cancelled gas plants. Those are allegations for which two McGuinty-era staffers are on trial and awaiting a judge's decision.
That lawsuit was resolved in 2015, though it is not known whether it was settled or withdrawn.