Qualicum Beach developer denies defamation claim is a SLAPP lawsuit

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Todsen Design and Construction has denied a lawsuit against the Qualicum Nature Preservation Society (QNPS) for defamation is a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP).  

Richard and Linda Todsen filed the civil claim in May against the society and its president, Ezra Morse, in which they sought relief for damages caused by defamatory statements. These included accusations of bribery, assault and destruction of a sensitive forest ecosystem.

Morse sought to have the claim dismissed by the courts, citing the B.C. Protection of Public Participation Act (PoPPA). He claimed the lawsuit was intended to intimidate him and other members of the public who have spoken out against a development proposal by the Todsens at 850 Eaglecrest Drive.

The development proposal is now in limbo, after a public hearing was cancelled at the request of the Todsens, days after residents took to the streets of Qualicum Beach for the QNPS’s second annual March For Our Future.

The Todsen’s legal team denied the lawsuit is a SLAPP, in a response to Morse’s request for dismissal, dated July 22. The response proposed a hearing of the application under the PoPPA in early October.

“At issue in this application and the underlying litigation, are the false and defamatory statements of fact published by the defendants (Morse) as part of a deliberate campaign to destroy the plaintiffs (Todsens) reputation,” the document reads.  “In opposition to development of a small parcel of unprotected land in Qualicum Beach, the defendants have falsely accused, either directly or by implication, the plaintiffs of bribery of elected officials and criminal assault. They have deliberately misrepresented the land as being part of protected or ecologically sensitive old-growth forests and misrepresented the community sentiment.”

The document claims Morse’s case for fair comment is not valid, “the fair comment defence has other elements, including the requirement of a foundation of true and stated facts and the absence of malice,” it reads. “The applicants defence of fair comment will clearly be defeated by malice.”

The QNPS launched a fundraising campaign to assist with legal fees and said it has reached its goal of $32,000.

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