P.E.I. press gallery did not discriminate against blogger Stephen Pate: Justice Ben Taylor

Ryan Ross rross@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on March 16, 2016

A human rights complaint alleging discrimination by the P.E.I. legislative press gallery and three of its members has been dismissed.

In a recent decision on a judicial review application, P.E.I. Supreme Court Justice Ben Taylor overturned a ruling that former P.E.I. Human Rights Commission chairwoman Anne Nicholson made in April 2013 to send Stephen Pate’s complaint to a panel hearing.

Instead, Taylor restored the commission’s former executive director’s earlier decision to dismiss the complaint.

Pate was handed press accreditation in the press gallery in the fall 2008.

Press gallery members voted in October 2009 to ask then House speaker Kathleen Casey to revoke his press pass, which she did.

He then filed a human rights complaint alleging the gallery, Guardian journalists Wayne Thibodeau and Teresa Wright and CBC producer Donna Allen discriminated against him because of his disability.

Pate has post-polio syndrome.

RELATED: Click here to read  P.E.I. Supreme Court Justice Ben Taylor's full decision

Taylor’s 35-page decision included his assessment of one of Pate’s posts on his blog that the judge called an insulting and personal attack on Wright.

In what Pate called a critique, he made several derogatory and personal remarks about Wright’s appearance and attire.

Taylor referred to the remarks repeatedly throughout the decision, calling them “harmful lies” and a “vicious, sexist statement” made about one of his press gallery colleagues.

Pate also posted a fake email exchange between then reporter Wayne Thibodeau and former Guardian managing editor Gary MacDougall, who retired in 2015.

The fake email exchange purported to be about an intentionally misleading story about the P.E.I. government.

Pate called the fake post satire.

Taylor said there was good evidence Pate’s membership was cancelled because of Pate’s online postings, including “lies about a fellow reporter, a member of the press gallery and the P.E.I. government.”

He also said there was evidence Pate’s post about Wright was part of the reason his membership was cancelled.

“False, sexist, demeaning and abusive comments, together with false inferences of government and press corruption, cost Mr. Pate his membership in the press gallery, as I expect they would any other member of any press gallery anywhere in Canada who made similar comments,” Taylor wrote.

RELATED: Click here for a timeline of events in the Stephen Pate file

In dealing with Nicholson’s decision, Taylor said there was no evidence to support a case of discrimination and it shouldn’t have been referred to a panel hearing.

Taylor said Pate was the “author of his own misfortune in writing articles inconsistent with his membership in the press gallery.”

There was no suggestion the press gallery was prejudiced against disabled people, Taylor wrote.

In his human rights complaint, Pate didn’t name the speaker as a party to the complaint.

Taylor said the press gallery and its members had no right to take Pate’s membership and it was the speaker who did so.

On that basis alone Pate had no claim against the press gallery, Taylor said.

There are defences that can be raised in defamation cases, but Taylor said none apply in this case.

Pate didn’t prove the statements he made were true and they weren’t considered fair comment, Taylor said.

He also wrote that Pate didn’t have qualified privilege, which doesn’t apply to bloggers who broadcast their comments to an unknown worldwide audience.

With qualified privilege, any comments must be made without malice, Taylor said.

“Mr. Pate’s comments about Ms. Wright were clearly malicious by any definition of the word.”

In his decision, Taylor also awarded the applicants $5,000 in costs, saying he normally would have awarded more, but had to consider Pate is a seriously disabled litigant, presumably with limited income.

With the release of the decision, Alan Parish, the lawyer for the applicants, said they were pleased with the finding, especially that no one discriminated against Pate.

The Guardian reached out to Pate for comment. He did not return The Guardian’s calls or emails on Tuesday.

“Obviously we were pleased with the result because that was the result were seeking,” Parish said.

 

rross@theguardian.pe.ca

twitter.com/ryanrross

 

“False, sexist, demeaning and abusive comments, together with false inferences of government and press corruption, cost Mr. Pate his membership in the press gallery, as I expect they would any other member of any press gallery anywhere in Canada who made similar comments,” P.E.I. Supreme Court Justice Ben Taylor

TIMELINE

-      Fall 2008 – Speaker gives Stephen Pate accreditation to the P.E.I. legislature;

-      March 12, 2009 – Pate publishes fake post about Wayne Thibodeau, now regional editor for TC Media in Prince Edward Island;

-      May 7, 2009 – Pate publishes post about Teresa Wright’s attire and appearance. Wright is now The Guardian’s chief political reporter;

-      Oct. 6, 2009 – Pate elected press gallery secretary

-      Oct. 19, 2009 – Press gallery votes to ask speaker to revoke Pate’s press pass

-      Oct. 21, 2009 – Speaker revokes Pate’s press pass and membership in press gallery