Government threatens to sue Whistle Bend blogger

A blogger has removed some comments from a website after the Yukon government threatened legal action. The site, www.whistlebendfiles.

A blogger has removed some comments from a website after the Yukon government threatened legal action.

The site, www.whistlebendfiles.wordpress.com, is a blog dedicated to covering the ongoing controversy over the construction of the Whistle Bend subdivision.

The website is administered by an anonymous blogger who goes by the name “Whistleleaks.”

A few months ago, a commenter, calling themselves “Contractor,” accused two senior bureaucrats with the Department of Community Services of incompetence in a post on the site.

In early April, the Yukon’s Justice Department sent a letter to Automattic, the company that hosts the blog, demanding that the posts be removed.

“The public, including yourself, has every right to express opinions about their government and to criticize public officials. However, freedom of expression is not absolute. False assertions about an individual that tend to harm the reputation of the individual are defamatory and actionable as such,” wrote government lawyer Philippa Lawson.

The blogger took down the post but replaced it with the Lawson’s letter.

This prompted the Justice Department to send another missive, demanding that the original letter be taken down as well.

Because the letter quoted some of the defamatory statements from the original posting, it was essentially the same as leaving the comment up, said Dan Cable, spokesperson for the Department of Justice.

Lawson’s letter has since been removed.

The whole situation has put the government in a difficult position, said Cable.

“People are allowed to criticize their government … it’s just different when you start criticizing individuals for work they carry out on behalf of the government in a way that calls into question their integrity or their competence,” he said. “There were lines there that we felt that the blogger had crossed.”

The blogger declined to give an interview, but responded with a statement on the website.

“My goal is to achieve a tactful yet respectful discussion,” wrote Whistleleaks.

“I do appreciate the comments and the public input. I, however, do request that it stay within the guidelines as I stated within the (Fair use Notice and Disclaimer) and I will not tolerate at anytime slanderous, hurtful comments or personal attacks on persons related to the stories. That being said, certain comments seem to have independent or first-hand knowledge pertaining to certain individuals or entities. I cannot vet these accusations, nor can I deny or confirm them. I trust that the individual or entity posting shall exhibit their own judgment accordingly,” read the statement.

The Whistle Bend subdivision – a $250-million project which is expected to hold 8,000 people when finished – has been beset by controversy for the last few years.

The original plans called for leaving large areas of natural green space intact. But those plans were based on aerial photographs, and when construction started it was quickly discovered that the design was flawed and would not allow water to drain properly.

To correct the problem, trees were be cleared and hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of soil and gravel were brought in to raise road and lot levels.

Norcope Enterprises, which had a $15.9-million contract to build the water and utility infrastructure for the first two phases of the subdivision, assumed that the $2.1 million of extra work fell within the scope of its contract.

But the Yukon government disagreed and gave that work to Sidhu Trucking instead.

In June 2011, Norcope took to the streets, surrounding the Yukon legislature with heavy equipment in protest.

It also filed a lawsuit, which is still making its way through the courts.

The president of Norcope, Doug Gonder, said he doesn’t know who’s behind the blog but has been following it closely.

“It happens time and time again that issues that are related wrongdoings by the government, they’re able to hide that in the courts and bypass the public knowing what’s going on, and I think that it’s about time that the public was aware of the activity on that project,” he said.

Gonder claims that he’s still owed about $4 million for the work his company has done on Whistle Bend.

While the case is still pending, Gonder said that Norcope has been in discussions with the Yukon government and is hopeful that they may be able to come to an agreement.

“We’re crying out to the Yukon government to pay their bill so we can survive another season, but to have that much money held back on a project of that magnitude is unbelievable,” he said.

Contact Josh Kerr at

joshk@yukon-news.com

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