A Canadian mayor is suing University of Winnipeg’s weekly student newspaper The Uniter for libel over its Dec. 4 editorial, “Local political blunder.”
Sam Katz, the mayor of Winnipeg, is suing writer Josh Benoit, the newspaper’s publisher, and the university, according to the Winnipeg Sun. He claims Benoit’s article accuses him of criminal activity. Interestingly, Benoit is not a student at the university but instead was a volunteer writer for the paper.
The newspaper’s writers are made up “about 60/40 when it comes to students/community volunteers,” Uniter managing editor Nicholas Friesen told iMediaEthics by e-mail.
The editorial has since been removed from the Uniter‘s website, so iMediaEthics hasn’t seen it. A statement in its place reads: “Because this matter is presently before the Courts, this article is temporarily unavailable.” According to Freisen, that note went up Feb. 5. He described the article:
“It is a 300-word rundown of what the Mayor had done in 2013, and was part of our 2013 reader’s poll. The Mayor received the most write-in votes in the category of Local Political Blunder.”
The editorial said Katz “is a criminal, has committed criminal acts pertaining to insider trading, belongs in jail, and is evil,” according to CTV News.
The newspaper’s Friesen defended Benoit. He told iMediaEthics by e-mail:
“I can’t say much, but what I can say right now is that we continue to stand by the author of the piece, Josh Benoit. With respect to the Mayor’s comments in the media, we’ve retained legal counsel and our lawyer, Bob Sokalski, is in contact with the Mayor’s lawyer. We won’t be commenting on the specifics of those discussions.”
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He added to the Winnipeg Sun, “I did fact-check the column. We felt it was appropriate to run…And, obviously, we stand by our writers.”
Friesen also explained how the article came to be. Readers had voted Katz as “local political blunder,” and Benoit was asked to write the story.
Katz said he wanted a retraction of the article, but since the newspaper didn’t agree, he had to sue.
“It’s the principle of, ‘Hey, the law is the law. You can’t just say anything,'” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Meanwhile, the university wants out of the lawsuit. In a statement published by Canadian Broadcasting Corp., the university said:
“The inclusion of the University of Winnipeg is erroneous as the University exercises no control whatsoever over The Uniter’s actions, editorial content, reporters or editorial board.”
iMediaEthics has written to the Mayor’s office for more information. We’ll update with any response.