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Current, former NPA directors appeal judge’s ruling to pay former mayor's legal bill

Seven current and former NPA board members were ordered to pay more than $100,000 of Kennedy Stewart’s legal costs, following the rejection of their defamation case
Seven current and former NPA board members have appealed a B.C. Supreme Court judge’s order | Rob Kruyt, BIV

Seven current and former NPA board members have appealed a B.C. Supreme Court judge’s order to pay more than $100,000 of ex-Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart’s legal costs.

On Tuesday, lawyer Karol Suprynowicz filed papers in the B.C. Court of Appeal on behalf of David Mawhinney, Christopher Wilson, David Pasin, Phyllis Tang, Angelo Isidorou, Federico Fuoco and Wesley Mussio. 

Stewart used the Protection of Public Participation Act to quash the defamation lawsuit stemming from his early 2021 news release that claimed the NPA board included right-wing extremists. 

Justice Wendy Baker threw out the defamation lawsuit when she ruled Stewart acted in the public interest and without malice. Both sides made submissions on the issue of costs last fall. 

In her March 20 ruling, Baker wrote that the defamation claim had substantial merit, but the plaintiffs did not prove they were harmed. Stewart alleged their action was brought in bad faith or for an improper purpose.

Baker awarded full costs in favour of Stewart, but not damages. In October’s civic election, Stewart lost the mayoralty to 2018 runner-up Ken Sim of ABC Vancouver. None of Stewart’s Forward Together candidates won a seat on city council. Similarly, all NPA candidates under Beijing-based leader Fred Harding were shut-out at the ballot box. 

The appeal notice claims that Baker erred in the application of the test for full indemnity costs and provided insufficient reasons for her findings. It also claims that Baker’s findings of fact were inconsistent with last July’s judgment and that she misconstrued the facts of the case in making her decision, while relying on facts that were not before the court or misstating the facts that were before the court.

The form says that Stewart has 10 days to respond to the appeal notice. Stewart declined to comment. 

Mussio said it is important to have appeal judges determine what is reasonable and justified. 

“Speaking for myself, I'm struggling with the fact that an individual like the ex-mayor, in his position of power, can cast aspersions on another individual that are not true and then run up legal costs expecting the person he deliberated attacked in public to pay his exorbitant legal fees,” Mussio said. “To me, that doesn't sound like justice in a free and democratic society. It sounds like the attacker is given a large legal sword to cause even more damage to the person he is attacking.”

Meanwhile, Stewart’s political party, Forward Together, is facing a $59,000 lawsuit from ad agency Point Blank Creative for unpaid bills from the campaign. Forward Together’s Elections BC disclosure reported $618,081.90 in income and almost $1.1 million expenses.

Political scientist Stewart resumed his academic career in January at Simon Fraser University as the director of the Centre for Public Policy Research. He also authored the forthcoming book, Decrim: How We Decriminalized Drugs in British Columbia.

A month ago, Stewart was the subject of a Globe and Mail story about foreign interference in the 2022 civic election campaign. The story quoted from a leaked report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that alleged China’s then-consul general, Tong Xiaoling, was working in early 2022 to defeat Stewart. 

Stewart suggested Vancouver forge closer ties with Taiwan. China considers the democratic, self-governing island a rebel province and leader Xi Jinping has threatened to send the Chinese military to take over. 

In 2021, Stewart cut-off meetings with Chinese government officials after several Canadian members of parliament were sanctioned for voting to declare China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims a genocide.