Ontario's top court has dismissed an appeal by former OPP deputy commissioner Brad Blair over over allegedly defamatory comments made by Premier Doug Ford, which Blair argued were made to deflect criticism from the premier himself.
The appeal was heard in October, nine months after a lower court dismissed a $5 million lawsuit filed by Blair in 2019 in which he alleged the premier smeared his reputation for political gain by saying Blair had violated the Police Services Act.
"My family and I are disappointed with today's decision. I don't understand how any court could find that I could gag the most powerful person in the province," Blair said in a statement Thursday.
"This decision is a warning to any future whistleblowers —don't bother to stick your head out of the trenches and do the right thing because you will get punished, have your reputation tarnished, and when you try to protect it, you could be subject to half a million dollars in costs."
Blair added he feels anti-SLAPP legislation — which was meant to discourage lawsuits that could make it difficult for people and organizations to speak out on matters of public interest — has effectively been made a tool "to silence any criticism of public officials."
Blair had asked the courts to force the provincial ombudsman to investigate the appointment of Ron Taverner, a long-time friend of the premier, as OPP commissioner, raising concerns about political interference. Taverner later withdrew his name from consideration for the position, citing the controversy surrounding his appointment.
His lawyer, Julian Falconer characterized Blair as a "whistleblower," and pointed out that Blair remains out of a job today while Ford remains the premier. He characterized Blair's fight against Ford as one of David versus Goliath, arguing Ford's comments that Blair broke the law would have been considered fact by virtue of his position as premier.
Ford's lawyer 'obviously pleased' with 'complete victory'
Ford's lawyers maintained the premier's statements on the matter were fair comment.
"A conviction is a fact," said lawyer Gavin Tighe in October, representing Ford. "An opinion that someone's conduct broke the law is just that — an opinion."
Tighe rejected the characterization of Blair as a "David," saying: "The only thing Mr. Blair has in common with David is that he threw the first rock," having written to the ombudsman.
In an emailed response to a request for comment from CBC News Thursday, Tighe said he and his client are "obviously pleased at the complete victory in the province's highest court.
"The integrity commissioner, the motion judge and now the Court of Appeal have all found there was no merit in these allegations," Tighe wrote.
Falconer says Blair now faces a $160,000 costs award "for doing the right thing."
He says his team is studying the decision and is exploring a possible appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Last December, Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba found the suit isn't exactly a SLAPP — strategic litigation against public participation — case, which typically refers to powerful entities seeking to silence more vulnerable opponents.
But the judge noted the analysis applies because Ford's comments related to a matter of public interest, and ruled to dismiss the claim.
Blair also filed a $15-million lawsuit alleging wrongful dismissal.