Nine teachers, a former school trustee, and a parent have won a resounding Supreme Court victory over a Comox Valley woman who defamed them on internet sites, in chat rooms, and on e-mail.
In reasons for judgment released Wednesday, Madam Justice Jacqueline Dorgan states that parent activist Sue Halstead “published the defamatory statements in the context of a prolonged and sustained campaign of character assassination against each of the plaintiffs.”
Judge Dorgan wrote: “Ms. Halstead’s shockingly vicious attack upon, and her manifestly fictitious account of, each of the plaintiff’s character and conduct is deserving of rebuke…Her actions are malicious and cruel. Such publications and actions have absolutely nothing to do with freedom of expression. Ms. Halstead has seriously transgressed the boundaries which prescribe that hallowed right.”
Halstead, a long-time volunteer and self-described president of Parents Against Violence Everywhere and the Comox Valley Learning Disability Association, was active at the local and provincial levels with the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (BCCPAC). She twice ran unsuccessfully for school board.
free pathology “The evidence establishes that since in or about 1997, Ms. Halstead has been highly conflict-driven, waging battles with everyone from PAC parents to teachers, trustees, and the Superintendent of Schools,” the judgment states.
Her output of “outrageous and scandalous” correspondence and complaints to numerous official bodies was prodigious, and was copied widely to journalists and politicians as well as many officials on the education scene.
In addition, “Ms. Halstead’s use of the Internet in the publication of defamatory statements was incessant and the reach was broad.” Her web site and chat groups published reams of material and opinion, including “very serious allegations of manifestly improper conduct.” Evidence showed that these allegations were defamatory and fictitious.
“I find that Ms. Halstead is entirely without credibility,” the judge wrote.
Judge Dorgan awarded the individual plaintiffs a total of $631,000 in compensatory damages and a further $50,000 in punitive damages to be shared amongst the eleven.
Judge Dorgan concluded by praising the plaintiffs and expressing the hope that with the end of the litigation they would be able to move forward in their personal and professional lives. She wrote:
“Each of these remarkable people has displayed strength of character and professionalism throughout; each has exhibited a passion for and a commitment to the education and well being of young people in their communities. Not only students, but the community as a whole, suffers when those involved in education are unfairly and unnecessarily publicly maligned.”