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School works! Defamation suit finally resolved

June 9, 2015 ATA News Staff

Damages paid up after years in limbo

Damages awarded almost a decade ago in a defamation lawsuit involving the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA), five members and a staff officer have finally been paid up.

In 2006, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench awarded more than $51,000 in damages to several teachers, an ATA staff officer and the ATA itself after finding they’d been variously defamed by three parents and the owner of a school-related website.

The decision was upheld in 2008 by the Alberta Court of Appeal. Since then, the ATA and its law firm have been working to ensure that the plaintiffs receive their court-awarded damages.

“I am pleased to report that the matter is now resolved and a final payment is being made to the estate of one member and to several other members,” stated Association executive secretary Gordon Thomas in a report to Provincial Executive Council in April.

The lawsuit involved Hinton-area parents Dawna and Ken McGowan, Red Deer parent Robyn Reid and SchoolWorks! owner Denis LaPierre.

The court found that, in separate instances, the McGowans and Reid wrote malicious and misleading statements about the teachers at their children’s schools. With the help of LaPierre, these letters were repeated to others and posted on the SchoolWorks! website. Cease and desist letters sent by ATA staff officer Valerie Riewe, who has since retired from the ATA, were also posted on the website.

The largest proportion of the award — more than $31,000 — went to a member who left the community and the teaching profession as a result of the defamation.

At the time, then Member Services co-ordinator Calvin Fraser said the Association doesn’t enter into legal action lightly.

“Lawsuits are entered into only after all other avenues have been exhausted and careful consideration has been given to the value for teachers in the outcome,” he said.

Thomas noted that launching a civil action against parents is an extremely rare event, but the conduct of the McGowans, Reid and SchoolWorks! owner LaPierre was so egregious the Association decided to proceed.

President Mark Ramsankar outlined that he is very pleased that the matter has come to a conclusion, but also expressed concern that the Association had to take the matter on at all.

“For me, it’s very easy. If you defame a teacher in Alberta, you risk a very clear response from the Association. And when the courts agree that a teacher has been defamed, we will enforce the court’s judgment.” ❚

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