Photo by Whitehorse Star
Photo by Whitehorse Star
Mandeep Sidhu, a former Whitehorse mayoral candidate, is appealing a Yukon Supreme Court judge's decision to quash his lawsuit against CBC North.
Sidhu was seeking more than $2 million in damages over a CBC News online article from June 2013 that he says "cast him in a negative light.”
The story reported on his acquittal on charges of making death threats against an RCMP officer.
Sidhu wants the suit — dismissed last month — back before a judge.
In the Yukon, a plaintiff has until "three months after the publication of the defamatory matter has come to the plaintiff's notice or knowledge” to alert the defendant to their "intention to bring an action,” according to territorial legislation.
Sidhu claims that while he took nearly seven months to file the suit, he took fewer than two weeks to get in touch with the CBC ombudsman over concerns about the article.
"That counts as ‘action,'” Sidhu told the Star.
"I disagree,” said Supreme Court Justice Leigh Gower in his dismissal May 15. "It is my view that the word ‘action' ... clearly refers to the commencement of a legal proceeding and not simply intention to take some other form of action which is not specified.”
Despite changes to the story made after he emailed his complaints, Sidhu said in an interview earlier this year that it continues to harm his "public image and reputation.”
"It's sad to see a story written like that,” the 28-year-old said.
"I put myself in the public sphere, and then you set this up as a person who yells homophobic slurs ... and starts being very confrontational with RCMP officers, which is not true.”
Sidhu was referring to the initial online story, posted June 2, 2013, which was later edited down and avoided reference to specific derogatory remarks.
Ombudsman Esther Enkin wrote in her complaint review from August 2013 that the article lacked context and misrepresented the events of the case.
"It is true that it was a conversation at the RCMP office that led to the charges, but to say there were references to the phrases ‘bullets have no name' and ‘someone's gonna die,' without attributing them, or explaining that is what the officer alleged, is a misrepresentation of what actually occurred,” Enkin wrote.
"Accuracy is a fundamental in journalism. It is set out in CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices. This story is imprecise and sloppy.
"The coverage fell short of the standards of CBC journalism. There was no obvious bias, but there was inadequate reporting,” Enkin concluded.
The CBC story now contains two corrections, made last September:
"An earlier version of this story said Sidhu used homophobic slurs. In fact, Sidhu used just one homophobic slur.
"This story has been revised to reflect that it is police who say that Sidhu refused to produce his driver's licence, which Sidhu denies,” the corrections state.
Sidhu maintains the article that remains online is "still incorrect.”
Contrary to the content of the piece, Sidhu did not have "a history with local police” or refuse "to produce his licence at a Christmas checkpoint,” according to the statement of claim.
He added that CBC's potentially large readership amplifies the story's impact on his reputation.
Sidhu was attempting to sue for "damages to public image and reputation in the amount of $2 million,” as well as $50,000 in general damages.
He filed the appeal yesterday afternoon.
Archie McLean, CBC North's managing editor, spoke briefly with the Star about the suit dismissal.
"We were pleased with the judge's decision and we plan to contest the appeal,” McLean said.
Sidhu told the Star last week the complaint he sent to the CBC — his initial attempt to correct misleading elements of the story while avoiding litigation — falls within the relevant statute's time limitations.
He cited case law on notifying another party of a potential defamation lawsuit: "if the defendant is given effective notice of the plaintiff's intention to sue, strict compliance with the method of the notice provisions is not necessary.
"This issue turns on whether ... the individual defendants became aware of the allegations made against them and the plaintiff's intention to sue them,” according to an Alberta Court of Queen's Bench decision.
That case, which also saw the CBC as the defendant, states that if "it is not plain and obvious that the plaintiffs will fail” in demonstrating they gave effective notice, dismissal of the suit is not justifiable, according to the 2012 ruling.
Sidhu, who works at his father's general contracting firm P.S. Sidhu Trucking, ran for mayor in the October 2012 municipal election, placing last of five candidates.
"Mr. Sidhu is a person pursuing a career in local politics,” the suit states. "This story has cast him in a negative light and did affect his image with the public — potential future voters.”
On Dec. 3, 2012, Sidhu went to the RCMP headquarters in Whitehorse to file a complaint over a confrontation with an officer during a roadside stop-check the day before.
RCMP Cpl. Natasha Dunmall claimed during Sidhu's trial last summer that as he was lodging his complaint, Sidhu threatened another officer — not present at the time — with violence and mentioned guns.
He was arrested several days after filing the complaint.
Sidhu said he did not utter a death threat, as alleged, but was simply quoting lines from an episode of the animated television comedy Family Guy.
Territorial court judge Richard Thompson acquitted Sidhu of all charges.
"Mr. Sidhu is entitled to an acquittal based on the reasonable doubt that I am left with as to the actual words by him which Cpl. Dunmall alleged to be a threat,” Thompson said.
Seven months before the stop-check confrontation and subsequent conflict at RCMP headquarters, an officer stopped Sidhu for a seatbelt violation and "Sidhu blasted him with foul language and filed a complaint,” the CBC story states — which Sidhu's suit does not contest.
The radio network also carried on-air reports about Sidhu's encounter with the police.
In her review, Enkin went on to insist on CBC News' overall impartiality, but also the unfairness of the Sidhu story in particular.
"There is no basis to say that CBC is inherently biased in favour of the RCMP. You only have to look at the body of work on the force that CBC News has done over the last few years to know that is not the case.
"The problem here is that the story is extremely brief, and in its compression, it sacrifices presenting a full picture of what occurred in the trial,” Enkin said.
"It simply did not provide enough information or context to make it meaningful to anyone who had not sat in the courtroom. And that compromises fairness, another obligation under CBC journalistic policy.”
CBC North has three weeks to file a response to the appeal.
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