Will Calgary Be Paying the Mayor's Lawyers?

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Will Calgary Be Paying the Mayor's Lawyers?

At a time when most Calgary taxpayers are reeling from a recession that hit hard and fast, there's a bit of upsetting news that points to a possible problem with our legal system—not our criminal justice system, though as a passionate Calgary defence lawyer I've identified, written about and fought against many of those—but with civil litigation and the responsibility of the public for their elected officials.

That's right: our responsibility to our elected officials, not the other way around.

It all goes back to that thing our mayor said about that other wealthy Calgarian who then turned around and sued the mayor—in his role as a Calgary official, sort of—for defamation, to the tune of $6 million. Whether you think what he mayor said was totally out of line or that the lawsuit was totally frivolous (or both), it's finally reached a conclusion with a settlement neither man is allowed to comment on.

For Calgary's mayor, who faces a legal bill estimated to be greater than $100,000, and for the Calgary public who might be stuck paying it the issue isn't quite resolved.

The question arises because, according to some perspectives, the Calgary mayor was sued as the Calgary mayor, and not as an ordinary private citizen. He incurred someone's wrath as part of his mayoral job, so his legal costs should be borne by the city. According to another perspective, the mayor's the one who decided what words to use and he may have even used them in an attempt to better his own self interests, including his continues mayorhood.

$100,000 is barely a blip on Calgary's budget, but as a matter of principle it seemed dubious to suggest that anyone in Calgary should be absolved of responsibility for their words and actions simply because they hold public office. Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I am an ardent supporter of free speech, and whether or not this type of defamation suit should still be allowed or entertained by the Calgary courts is a debate worth having. With the law as it stands, though, either everyone should have their legal fees covered when defending against potentially frivolous lawsuits, or no one should.

Any other person, in Calgary politics who made the same statements and agreed to the same settlement would have unquestionably been required to pay their own legal fees. The mayor shouldn't be treated any differently simply because he was in office.

Fortunately, Calgary's city council gets to vote on the issue (and the mayor won't be a part of that vote), so it isn't a done deal. If the mayor's legal fees were automatically covered, the situation would be far worse, but even the potential doesn't sit quite right with me.

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