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Journalism: To name or not?

 

Journalism: To name or not?

John Best

Two senior employees of the City of Hamilton are on paid suspension after a lawsuit was filed that alleged the two had conspired with a company with mob ties, to allow the illegal dumping of contaminated soil at a location in Waterdown. It is alleged the two received kickbacks from a company, Havana Group Supplies, connected to slain mobster Pat Musitano, and Steve Sardinha, a convicted con artist, to allow the dumping to take place on the property of Waterdown Garden Supplies, where it alleged 24,000 truckloads of fill were dumped.

Qualified privilege applies to court filings

The two City employees were named in a $75 Million lawsuit filed by Waterdown Garden supplies. The Hamilton Spectator has published the names of the two city employees. Such publication has qualified privilege from libel and slander, even if it is eventually proven that they are innocent.

Nonetheless, it opens up a tricky area– statements of claim are legal court documents and as such are in the public domain and can be quoted. But statements of claim are also frequently the source of outrageous malicious lies. Even though filing a false claim is subject to perjury charges, you have to look long and hard to find a single instance of  anybody being charged for doing so.  In this case a statement of claim naming the two Hamilton employees is filed by Gary McHale, a man who was a former partner with the reputed mobster and fraudster. In fact, McHale was Vice-President of Havana during the time some of the illegal dumping was taking place.

This is borne out by an unrelated decision by the Ontario Labour Board on a dispute over union certification in which the OLB ruled, “The Board finds that based on the materials filed that Havana Group Supplies Inc., Burl-Oak Paving Ltd., Waterdown Garden Supplies Ltd., and Master Concrete & Interlocking Ltd. are engaged in associated or related activities or businesses and under common control and direction and constitute a single employer.”

Given McHale’s former relationship with Havana some caution would suggest itself right there.  Lawsuits can take a tortuous path—the amount sought as damages, $75 Million is huge—but would have to be substantiated by proof of actual losses. The lawsuit also names Havana Group Supplies and Sardinha—but good luck getting a dime from either of them. So that leaves the deep-pocketed City of Hamilton as the only likely source of any cash, should the lawsuit succeed. It’s success may not rely entirely on a finding of corruption against the two City employees, but there’s no doubt it will be harder to prove damages if they are exonerated.

The city has hired a third-party investigator and the Hamilton Police must be aware of the situation by now, given the publicity it has received. It appears there will be a finding soon about the two city employees, and the allegation will either be confirmed or debunked. Given the legitimate questions surrounding the legal action, that might have been a fairer time to release the two City employees’ names.

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