U of O Watch mission, in the words of Foucault...

"One knows … that the university and in a general way, all teaching systems, which appear simply to disseminate knowledge, are made to maintain a certain social class in power; and to exclude the instruments of power of another social class. … It seems to me that the real political task in a society such as ours is to criticise the workings of institutions, which appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticise and attack them in such a manner that the political violence which has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them." -- Foucault, debating Chomsky, 1971.

U of O Watch mission, in the words of Socrates...

"An education obtained with money is worse than no education at all." -- Socrates

video of president allan rock at work

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

U of O admits funding "private lawsuit" against fired professor

David W. Scott, BLG Co-Chair

The high-profile case of St. Lewis v. Rancourt involves law professor Joanne St. Lewis, represented by part-time-law-professor and Gowlings-firm-lawyer Richard Dearden, and former physics professor Denis Rancourt, all at the University of Ottawa.

St. Lewis' defamation lawsuit is for a blog post by Rancourt critical of St. Lewis' role in minimizing a student report about systemic racism at the school, via an "evaluation report" of the student report. Both St. Lewis and the University administration characterized the St. Lewis "evaluation report" as an "independent" assessment.

The lawsuit claims damages of $1 million and would provide $125 thousand directly to the University for a scholarship fund.

There is uncontested public record evidence of the litigation being aggressive, and a barrage of four motions have already been filed against the self-represented and unemployed defendant since pleadings were closed on August 5, 2011, HERE.

Case law in Ontario has established that publicly funded corporations such as school boards and municipalities cannot sue individuals for defamation related to any criticisms, in that the asymmetry of resources negates the individual's Charter rights.

Not to mention the other obvious problems related to using public funds and student tuition money in this way if an accredited university were to fund a "private" litigation aimed at silencing one of its critics.

Questions therefore arise: Is this effectively a SLAPP (strategic litigation against public participation)? Is public and student money being used for one professor to sue a former professor over criticism with sting and name-calling? Is this an individual exercising her right to protect her reputation or an institution attacking one of its vocal critics?

Is the University funding the lawsuit?

It has taken two months to extract an answer from the University. The efforts to get an answer have included:
  • Persistent and repeated requests to president Allan Rock and his administration, HERE.
  • An access to information (ATI) request, rebuked as "frivolous", HERE.
  • A formal motion at University Senate, HERE.
  • A direct and unanswered question to Dearden in a Court hearing (October 6, 2011).

Finally, an answer came one-day after the October 24, 2011, deadline set by Rancourt. The answer is provided by a national firm Co-Chair of BLG, the largest law firm in Canada, Mr. David W. Scott (link to letter):

Dear Dr. Rancourt

We represent the University of Ottawa and are responding to your communication of August 28.

Of the many questions which you have posed, I am instructed to answer only the first. The remaining questions suggest an agenda and are beyond any requirement to respond.

Indeed, the University of Ottawa is reimbursing Professor St. Lewis for her legal fees incurred in her defamation proceeding in the Courts against you. Your defamatory remarks about Professor St. Lewis were occasioned by work which she undertook at the request of the University and in the course of her duties and responsibilities as an employee. Her efforts were not personal, but in the interests of the University. Furthermore, your outrageously racist attack upon her takes this case out of the ordinary and, in the view of the University, alone creates a moral obligation to provide support for her in defence of her reputation.

For the future, any questions which you choose to pose in respect of which there is no legal obligation to respond will be not answered.

Yours very truly
Borden Ladner Gervais LLP
David W. Scott

When Mr. Scott was elected Chair of Pro Bono Law Ontario in 2007, he graciously stated (link):
"In my opinion, the single most important issue facing those charged with responsibility for the administration of justice is access to the courts by ordinary citizens. That's what Pro Bono Law Ontario is all about. It's great to be part of such a wonderful organization."

I guess this is Mr. Scott's way to help ensure that law professor St. Lewis has access to justice?

As background, all related posts about the lawsuit are HERE.

Links to all pleadings and court documents in the lawsuit are HERE.

A Law Times media article about the lawsuit is HERE.


Paule said...

I am glad the University acknowledged this. Now perhaps everyone can focus on the real issue in this lawsuit, namely, whether Mr. Rancourt defamed (and continues to defame) Professor St. Lewis in his numerous blog posts. I am not giving my opinion on this question, one way or another, but it’s unfortunate to see someone trying to create diversions and smoke-screens. If Mr. Rancourt believes he is entitled to say what he wants about anyone, in the name of freedom of expression, then let him make that argument and convince a judge that he is right. Such a precedent would be of great value. So why is he wasting so much time on these trivial matters that have no bearing on the case?

Steven Augustine said...

"If Mr. Rancourt believes he is entitled to say what he wants about anyone, in the name of freedom of expression..."

Freedom of Expression is only actually *exercised* in the context of its "offensive" (to some) content. Otherwise it's merely "Freedom of Conformity", no? If Democracy doesn't include provisions to protect the needs of the few from the will of the many (or of the powerful few), it becomes indistinguishable from tyrannical forms of government.

Rancourt's language (specifically, the term "House Negro") isn't a vacuously inflammatory epithet; it's critical language with a specific historical meaning. If Rancourt's critique can't be sufficiently rebutted with evidence to the contrary, or with a counter-critique, or using any other rhetorical means, the implication are that there is justice in Rancourt's original critique, despite this attempt to *punish* him using the legal system as a truncheon. That's the logical conclusion. Using the legal system as an expensive truncheon (or fire hose) to punish/torture unpopular opinions is corruption at its most blatant. Jump on that bandwagon at the risk of losing your soul.