Defamation civil claims filed against Qualicum Nature Preservation Society and administrator of Concerned Citizens of Qualicum Beach

Ezra Morse, president of the Qualicum Nature Preservation Society, speaks at a rally in opposition to a proposed Official Community Plan amendment in Qualicum Beach in July 2020. || Photo by Kevin Forsyth
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Two separate civil claims for defamation have been filed by the owners of Todsen Design and Construction — one against the president of the Qualicum Nature Preservation Society (QNPS) and the other against the administrator of the Facebook page Concerned Citizens of Qualicum Beach (CCQB).

Richard and Linda Todsen are seeking relief from damages caused by defamatory statements made by Ezra Morse, president of the QNPS and Deborah McKinley, administrator of CCQB, according to Supreme Court of British Columbia documents.

The Todsens have an application open with the Town of Qualicum Beach to rezone 6.4 acres of land for a 16-lot subdivision at 850 Eaglecrest Drive. Morse and McKinley have made multiple accusations against the developers in public forums since the application opened in June 2019, including accusations of bribery, destruction of a sensitive forest ecosystem and assault, according to the court documents.

The claim against Morse includes four general categories of statements: the “bribery statements”, “community opposition statements”, “land statements” and “assault statements”, as named in the notice.

“It’s likely not appropriate to comment at this time,” said Morse in a message to Oceanside News. “I trust most will find the allegations frivolous on their own.”

The “bribery statements” are comments made by Morse, suggesting the plaintiffs (Todsens) made significant contributions to Qualicum Beach Mayor Brian Wiese’s election campaign, with intentions to encourage passing of zoning bylaws.

Morse is quoted in the document writing “campaign contributors get favours…reward contractors with diligence, not those who speculate with political connections,” in the Facebook group PQB & Area Residents Chat Group.

Richard Todsen contributed $180 to the mayor’s campaign, according to Elections BC and have said they did not know him before and only supported him based on his platform.

The “community opposition statements” suggested the majority of the town was opposed to the rezoning application. The document said the statements are defamatory and/or constitute “malicious falsehoods in their literal meaning and have led or are calculated to lead persons to act in a way that caused or is calculated to cause actual loss, damage or expense to the plaintiff.”

The “land statements” were understood to mean the rezoning application was on protected land, will affect protected land and that it would rezone 200 acres of protected forest, according to the court documents.

Morse commented on social media that the rezoning application was “setting precedent to remove 200+ football fields of protected forests,” according to the document. It said the statements are defamatory and false.

Morse wrote on the CCQB Facebook page, “Estate Residential Developer (another significant contributor to the mayor) verbally and physically assault a citizen at their public information meeting,” according to the civil claim. This, along with similar statements make up the “assault statements.”

According to the civil claim, Morse willfully bypassed the registration area, security and sanitizing protocols at a public information session on August 19, 2020 and trespassed on the Todsen’s land without being lawfully admitted. The protocols were in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it said.

He was asked to stop and return to the check-in and leave the protest sign he was carrying. He was escorted off the property, according to the court document. “Ezra Morse was not assaulted illegally or unprovoked by the plaintiff,” it reads.

The claim against McKinley include three categories of statements — the “burning statements”, “rezoning statements” and the “bribery statements”, as named in the document.

McKinley claimed the Todsens cleared land and burned on their land illegally, according to the civil claim. It quotes her writing, “land was cleared ILLEGALLY — no permit — and the owners had a huge fire — also without a permit,” in an online comment section.

The “rezoning statements” are comments made by McKinley claiming the rezoning application was illegal, done behind closed doors and would destroy 200 acres of land, according to the document.

McKinley also made comments similar to Morse, which, according to the civil claim were understood to mean the Todsens had bribed the mayor for rezoning.

“With the so-called moneyed elites thinking they can buy whatever they want, including zoning changes,” she wrote on the CCQB Facebook page.

McKinley told Oceanside News she does not have a comment at this time.

The documents said the Todsens are seeking permanent injunctions restraining both defendants from further writing or publishing the accusations, or any similar. They are also seeking relief for damages for intentional infliction of mental distress; aggravated damage; general damages and punitive damages.

Both defendants have 21 days to respond to the claims, filed on May 14. The court documents list Nanaimo as the place of trial.

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