Taylor denies defamation charge

The public has a right to know.

The public has a right to know.

That’s the gist of Donald Taylor’s defence in a legal spat that pits the Watson Lake resident and freewheeling critic of the Yukon Party government against Pat Irvin, a Watson Lake businessman and staunch ally of Premier Dennis Fentie.

Taylor was hit with a defamation lawsuit by Irvin last month, prompted by an e-mail in which he refers to “well known weekend coke parties for the elite at Pat Irvin’s residence,” according to the statement of claim.

The e-mail was sent in January to both territorial newspapers and several prominent politicians, including MP Larry Bagnell, Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell and the NDP caucus.

According to the statement of claim, Taylor’s accusations are untrue and have tarnished Irvin’s reputation, exposing him to “public scandal and embarrassment.”

This damage has been compounded by the criminal nature of the allegations and Taylor’s refusal to provide an “effective apology” for the harm done, the claim states.

What’s more, Taylor has admitted he had no proof to substantiate his allegations, which are based on hearsay, the claim states.

The claim doesn’t say how much money is sought in compensation.

But Taylor’s statement of defence, filed March 1, denies all this.

The allegations are based on facts and honestly-held beliefs, it states. They were made “in good faith in the pursuit of the public interest.

“The public has an interest in and is entitled to know about the conduct of a public figure in the Yukon and relating to the health and safety of the community,” states the defence.

“The defendant submits that this action has been commenced with the vexatious intent of attention to cause the defendant to stop criticizing the plaintiff and that this is a strategic lawsuit intended to interfere with the defendant’s freedom of expression.”

The defence makes a number of other arguments, including that the e-mail constituted “responsible journalism,” and that it was a private and confidential message.

Taylor, 76, served as Watson Lake’s political representative for more than three decades, first on the territorial council in the 1960s and later as a member of the legislative assembly in the 1970s and 1980s. He first sat as a Progressive Conservative and later as an independent. He served as House Speaker from 1974 until 1985, when he retired from politics.

In recent years he has become an outspoken critic of Yukon Party members with ties to Watson Lake, including Premier Dennis Fentie and cabinet ministers Elaine Taylor and Archie Lang.

Irvin has worked as a political organizer for the party and is a business partner of Lang. Until recently, they owned three Watson Lake Hotels. Irvin continues to own the town’s grocery store.

He was recently appointed to Yukon Energy’s board by Fentie.

Through blog posts and mail-outs, Taylor has, under the title of “citizens’ advocate,” crusaded against what he perceives as widespread corruption that has smothered Watson Lake’s economy. He is defending himself in court.

A case-management conference is to be held April 13.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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