Lawyer Says Porter's Defamation Suit Meant To Intimidate Refuelers Union

Lawyer Clayton Ruby calls a $4 million defamation suit filed by Porter Airlines against the union representing 22 striking fuel workers a deliberate attempt to intimidate them.

"The purpose is not to get redress in the courts, but it's to silence people," said Ruby in an interview Wednesday, after filing the union's statement of defense.

In April, Porter Airlines filed the lawsuit, arguing the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union Local 343 and its staff representative Mary Stalteri were raising unfounded safety issues at the airline, especially on Twitter.

Ruby says this lawsuit has hallmarks of an SLAPP suit, also known as a strategic litigation against public participation, often filed by a large company against its critics.

Proof of that is the fact that the lawsuit offers no explanation for how Porter has been harmed, and why Porter is seeking $3 million in general and special damages for defamation and $1 million in punitive damages, he added.

"In my opinion, the company is looking for something to sue on. This is not the stuff that people ordinarily raise in a court of law," he said. "It has a chilling effect, and that's why it's dangerous in a democracy."

When Ruby's comments were put to Porter spokesman Brad Cicero, he referred to a company statement issued Wednesday, referencing that "it was necessary to file a defamation lawsuit against the union to set the record straight."

The statement adds that Porter does not dispute that the union and its members are entitled to make public statements about the ongoing labour dispute or seek to prevent them from legitimately exercising that right.

"However, the union and its members are not entitled to make false and harmful statements in their pursuit of public sympathy," it said.

"COPE has knowingly made misleading and unsupportable claims that Porter operates an unsafe work environment and, therefore, passengers are at risk. Porter has always prioritized safety and will continue to do so."

Stalteri called the lawsuit a diversionary tactic. "Instead of concentrating at the task at hand, which is getting these people back to work, we are putting our resources to defending that lawsuit," she said.

Negotiators for the two sides met with one private mediator in April and with a mediator with the Canadian Industrial Relations Board, but no settlement has been reached.

Union lawyer Glenn Wheeler said given there are so few strikers, it is difficult to disrupt Porter's activities at Toronto's island airport.

Copyright 2013 Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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