Who would have thought a dispute over deer management would result in two separate court cases and a settlement of $75,000? The dispute turned personal after Invermere resident and B.C. Deer Protection Society member Devin Kazakoff filed a defamation case against Invermere mayor and NDP MLA candidate Gerry Taft last year.
Mr. Kazakoff sued the local mayor for a comment made online by Mr. Taft in January 2016. Mr. Taft commented on an online news site labeling Kazakoff as a “convicted felon.” The comment was made after Kazakoff pleaded guilty in 2015 to tampering with deer traps in Kimberley. In his defamation suit Kazakoff alleged Taft’s comments were calculated to expose Kazakoff to local ridicule.
Kazakoff’s lawyers originally asked for an apology from Taft before then seeking legal resolution, in which Kazakoff asked for $175,000 in general, punitive and aggravated damages. A Supreme Court of British Columbia judgement in the defamation cases released earlier today (May 4th) said the defendant (Mr. Taft) did not take adequate steps to apologize, and maintained his position that while he was mistaken regarding a conditional discharge being a criminal conviction, he was in some respects right in the sense of Mr. Kazakoff have been found to be breaking the law
“What a mayor of any community says about a person’s reputation matters—to the community, to constituents, and to the person’s friends, family, and, in this case, customers, both actual and prospective,” read the judgement.
Mr. Taft however told to the Pioneer and Echo newspapers he did apologize in February 2016.
Mr. Kazakoff argued Mr. Taft’s comments affected his flooring business, saying customers were generally interested in his product but once he handed them his card they abruptly left the store.
The Honourable Mr. Justice G. C. Weatherill said he did find Mr. Taft’s comments diminished Mr. Kazakoff’s reputation in the community, but not the extent alleged by Mr. Kazakoff. Judge Weatherill ruled in favour of Mr. Kazakoff, finding him entitled to payment for general damages, aggravated damages and but said Mr. Kazakoff will not receive anything for punitive damages.
“The defendant’s (Mr. Taft) attempts to prove the plaintiff was guilty of criminal conduct as justification for the use of the words “convicted” and “convicted felons” was, in my view, inexcusable and is deserving of censure and rebuke,” said Judge Weatherill.
Mr. Kazakoff is entitled to receive $50,000 for general damages, $25,000 for aggravated damages, totalling a fee of $75,000 to be paid by Mr. Taft. When the Pioneer and Echo spoke to Mr. Taft he stated he was disappointed with the decision and is looking to appeal in the future.
“The focus right now is continue focusing on the election campaign and putting in as much effort up until Tuesday (election day). This judgement doesn’t change anything, it’s more legal process but we’re focused on the election,” said Taft.
Mr. Kazakoff declined to comment directly to the Pioneer and Echo but extended the following comment in a press release from his lawyer.
“The circumstances of the lawsuit have been very difficult for me. While I am obviously pleased to have had my reputation vindicated by such an award and by the court’s thorough reasons for judgment, I am also pleased this is behind me now,” said Mr. Kazakoff.
Mr. Kazakoff was represented by Neil Robertson of Robertson & Company. Mr. Robertson told the Pioneer and Echo in a press release that proceedings against Mr. Taft was an undertaking.
“Defamation is considered one of the most complex forms of legal action. It takes a special kind of courage to start a defamation action, particularly against a prominent individual. Mr. Kazakoff’s legal proceeding against Mr. Taft was just such an undertaking,” said Mr. Robertson.