Teachers, others attacked in Internet campaign, awarded $700,000 in damages
Jeff Rud, Times Colonist
Published: Friday, January 13, 2006
A Courtenay woman whose campaign of highly critical e-mails and Internet postings defamed nine teachers, a former school trustee and a parent, has been ordered by the B.C. Supreme Court to pay nearly $700,000 in damages.
Madame Justice Jacqueline Dorgan ordered Sue Halstead to pay 11 plaintiffs a total of $676,000 after Halstead published defamatory statements “in the context of a prolonged and sustained campaign of character assassination against each of the plaintiffs.”
Article from The ProvinceThe judge acknowledged that it will be difficult to collect the damages, given Halstead’s financial circumstances, but also ordered her to stop publishing comments about the plaintiffs on the Internet or any other medium.
“Her conduct was clearly motivated by malice and was oppressive. Ms. Halstead’s shockingly vicious attack upon, and her manifestly fictitious account of, each of the plaintiffs’ character and conduct is deserving of rebuke …,” Dorgan wrote in her reasons for judgment.
Halstead, a mother whose five children attended public school in the Comox Valley, has a long history as a volunteer activist with a focus on education and prevention of bullying. But the judge ruled that she defamed these educators by sending out mass e-mails and postings in chatrooms in which she “regularly made allegations of teachers’ misconduct and allegations that the school board mishandled or covered up the behaviours she referred to.”
Halstead also created a website in 2003 that included a page entitled “B.C.’s Least Wanted” which the judgment described as a “rogue’s gallery.” It included a display of names and photographs of people whom Halstead contended had “engaged in wrongful conduct within the education system.”
The “Least Wanted” page was divided into sections, including those who had been disciplined by the B.C. College of Teachers; “Educators in Court,” which included names and photos of teachers involved in litigation; “Bully Educators,” whom Halstead alleged to have committed “acts deserving of rebuke, or deserving of the description ‘bully;'” and “School Board Bullies,” a number of boards alleged to have used bullying tactics against parents and students.
In cases where photos of teachers were not posted, cartoons of an apple with a worm in it were displayed in their place.
Edmund Newman, a teacher at Cumberland Junior Secondary, was awarded the greatest individual damages, getting $150,000. Other individual awards ranged from $1,000 to $125,000 and the judge also ordered $50,000 in punitive damages to be split among the plaintiffs, nine of whom live on Vancouver Island and two in Prince George.
Halstead released a brief statement by e-mail Thursday in response to the judgment.
“The judge has ordered me not to discuss these issues and I can’t or I would be in contempt of court,” she wrote. “I took these [defamatory] statements off the website in November 2003 when the union demanded that I do so. That is over two years ago. I have no intention of ever publishing them again.”