Protester contests defamation suit

A woman being sued by the chief and economic development officer of the Liard First Nation is defending her actions in court.

A woman being sued by the chief and economic development officer of the Liard First Nation is defending her actions in court.

In a statement of defence filed this week, Vianna Abou argued that the criticisms she levelled against Chief Liard McMillan and Alex Morrison were not defamatory.

In July, Abou helped organize a protest calling for the resignation of both men.

Citing lack of financial transparency and accountability, protesters gathered 120 signatures calling for McMillan’s resignation.

Abou acted as spokesperson for the protesters. In statements to the media she called McMillan a bully and dictator who has ignored community concerns for years.

Those comments, as well as placards displayed during the protest and a letter she wrote to the Whitehorse Star, formed the basis of McMillan and Morrison’s lawsuit.

Filed in September, their statement of claim accused Abou of engaging in a “protracted campaign of vilification.”

Calling her conduct “outrageous” and motivated by “ambition,” it went on to accuse Abou of concealing her misconduct by pretending to be concerned for the community.

The pair were especially vulnerable to the accusations because of the “highly variable levels of sophistication among First Nations citizens,” in addition to the “fault lines” and “perceived grievances” that already existed in the community, said the statement of claim.

In her statement of defence, Abou said she did not authorize the placards, but nevertheless, there were grounds for suspicion over the hotels the placards made reference to.

In 2007, the Laird First Nation used $2.83-million from its share of the Northern Housing Trust to buy three Watson Lake hotels. The trust was a federal fund set up to create affordable housing.

At the time, McMillan insisted the First Nation’s financial statements didn’t paint an accurate picture of the transaction and that no housing money was used to buy the hotels.

One of the buildings later burned down, but two others were periodically used to shelter First Nation members.

Last year, the First Nation’s development corporation sold the remaining hotels for an undisclosed sum, after receiving an unsolicited offer.

“There are grounds for investigating the ownership and the manner in which the hotels were purchased and subsequently sold,” said Abou’s statement of defense.

As for the comments she made in the media, Abou invoked the defence of fair comment.

“They are true in substance and in fact and insofar as they consist of expressions of opinion, they are fair comment on a matter of public interest,” read her statement of defence.

McMillan and Morrison are seeking an unspecified amount of money for aggravated and punitive damages with prejudgement interest for damages to their business reputation.

Abou is asking for the case to be dismissed and for McMillan and Morrison to pay her legal expenses.

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