Seemingly out of nowhere, Winnipeg’s mayor has decided to sue a university newspaper and its writer for a column that was published two months ago. – Free Press–
The column titled The Local Political Blunder – Sam Katz strongly insinuates that Katz orchestrated inside deals behind a corrupt fire hall tendering process.*
The first question most people would ask is: why is he doing this? It seems counter-productive. Sure, Mayor Sam Katz is entitled to protect himself against defamation like anyone else, but the pros and cons don’t seem to add up in his favour here.
To begin with, the lawsuit breathes new life into an article that went into recycling bins a month ago, and was obscure to begin with.
Maybe this allows him to set the record straight, but with whom? Most of the Uniter’s readers are students who have priorities other than politics — like jobs, exams, booze and sex (not necessarily in that order). This is probably not an important demographic for Sam as he mulls another run for mayor, and in any case suing their school, their newspaper, and a fellow student is not going to endear himself to them.
Meanwhile the whole city is now aware of this article, and gets to watch one of the city’s most powerful people doing battle with a university student.
Does Sam have some other motive?
Is he trying to deflect the spotlight off the Police headquarters fiasco and back on to the fire hall fiasco?
Is he trying to put a chill on other amateur writers (like myself) well in advance of the next election so that we take it easy on him?
Does he even have a case?
The lawsuit states “That the ordinary meaning of the words written by Benoit … Clearly state that the plaintiff is a criminal, had committed criminal acts pertaining to insider trading, belongs in jail and is evil”.
The writer, Josh Benoit, says that Katz is responsible for the fire hall land-swap debacle. As the man in charge of the city at the time it happened, I would say this is a fair statement. Josh then draws a direct comparison to Martha Stewart’s conviction for insider trading. This is where the trouble starts. He doesn’t say that the fire hall swap was an inside job orchestrated by Katz, but he very clearly implies it.
He continues in the next paragraph: ‘You don’t have to stretch your imagination too far to picture Katz saying to Sheegl in passing, “Oh, by the way, make sure Shindico gets this deal at any cost”‘. I can’t say if this crosses the line, but thousands of people have probably thought the same thing as they read about the scandal in the paper.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the article is the pinnacle of balanced journalism, and I am certainly not one to speak, but most of what the lawsuit seeks to address is implied and not stated as such. Is that enough, or does a definitive statement need to be made? I don’t know. I’m not a judge.
That picture of Sam in the banner of the article however … that might be worthy of a lawsuit:
The optics of the mayor suing a student who volunteers his time to a campus newspaper is not good. Neither is suing the University that has been one of the keys to downtown revitalization, and by the way has nothing to do with the Uniter publication.
Sam’s strength has always been his charm, his friendly persona and his charisma. He will need to capitalize on those qualities to the fullest extent if he hopes keep his job as Mayor in the fall. However this one act undermines those key strengths by making him appear to be a bully.
Notice that I don’t say that Sam IS a bully. That is unprovable and might be crossing the line. I could get sued for that.
UPDATE 1: I have been informed that the writer is not actually a student of the U of W. Nevertheless, he is a volunteer writer for a student newspaper, and the optics are not good.
UPDATE 2: This happened —>