A British Columbia Supreme Court judge ruled that there were not grounds to dismiss a slander lawsuit launched by an executive from a mining firm against the Yukon government and its former chief mine engineer.
The lawsuit, filed in May 2021, deals with statements that chief mine engineer Paul Christman allegedly made at a mining conference in Vancouver the previous year. It is claimed that Christman loudly accused Janet Lee-Sheriff, Golden Predator Mining Corporation’s CEO, of lying about the state of the Brewery Creek mine’s licensing among other comments that were allegedly defamatory.
Justice Palbinder Kaur Shergill’s ruling was released on Nov. 2 on an application to dismiss the lawsuit. The application, filed this spring, sought the dismissal of the lawsuit under B.C.’s Protection of Public Participation Act. The application was brought by Christman, the former mine engineer accused of libel in the lawsuit.
“This is a classic SLAPP suit [Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation]: a corporate entity that believes it has been criticized over a matter of public interest has resorted to litigation to silence and punish its critic and chill future criticism of its public presentations and operations,” the application reads.
Shergill’s ruling states that with the application to dismiss on the table it was the responsibility of the party that launched the lawsuit to satisfy the court that the suit has merit and a reasonable prospect of success.
The judgement summarizes accounts of the events that the slander allegations stemmed from Lee-Sheriff, her husband William Sheriff and Christman as they have been presented in affidavits presented to the court.
Lee-Sheriff recounted both statements another person told her Christman was making during a presentation she gave at the conference. Both Lee-Sheriff and Sheriff said Christman later called Lee-Sheriff a liar and said the company does not have the necessary licensing to operate its Brewery Creek mine.
Christman denies making any statements during the presentation and also says he didn’t disparage or berate Lee-Sheriff during their later interaction. He agrees he did express his views that Golden Predator was misleading the public by stating that the Yukon Government had confirmed that they had the necessary licensing to restart production at Brewery Creek.
The judge wrote that she is satisfied that Lee-Sheriff and Golden Predator has provided enough information to demonstrate that the allegations have merit and a reasonable chance of success at trial.
Shergill’s ruling also deals with possible legal defences that would be available to Christman and the Yukon government. These deal with various classes of protected speech that, if proven, would render otherwise slanderous comments legal.
The defence of justification would require Christman and the Yukon government to prove that his statements about the mine, Golden Predator and the licences it holds were substantially true. The judgement states there was not enough evidence presented to prove the truth of all of Christman’s statements.
The defence of qualified privilege, dealing with if Christman had a duty to make the statements he did based on his role as chief mine engineer, was also found legally untenable by the judge.
“While he may have had an interest or duty to speak to Ms. Lee-Sheriff and Mr. Sheriff directly about his concerns regarding the veracity of Ms. Lee-Sheriff or Golden Predator’s claims regarding licensing, he did not have a duty to voice those concerns to people who were witness to the altercation between Mr. Christman and Ms. Lee-Sheriff and Mr. Sheriff (ie. the employee of Golden Predator and the investors),” the judgement reads.
The fair comment defence was also found insufficient with the judge writing that someone who overheard Christman’s alleged comments might not recognize them as his individual opinion, but rather as facts or judgements by a government official as they were made at a resource industry conference and he was easily identifiable as a government employee.
Finding that there is greater public interest in allowing the lawsuit to proceed than in protecting Christman’s expression, Shergill dismissed the application to halt the lawsuit.
Christman had sued the Yukon government prior to the slander suit being filed, alleging wrongful dismissal and the circumvention of his authority amid a conflict over the licensing of Golden Predator’s Brewery Creek mine. That suit was settled without a trial in November 2021.
Golden Predator merged with Arizona Gold last year, taking on the new name Sabre Gold Mines Corp. The new company still owns the Brewery Creek mine. Lee-Sheriff is still listed as an advisor to the company on its website.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org