Shane Homes CEO Cal Wenzel is suing the mayor of Calgary for $6 million over allegations of defamation — and taxpayers could be on the hook for the mayor’s legal bills.
The lawsuit is necessary because Naheed Nenshi declined to apologize to Wenzel for defamation, according to a statement from the home builder issued Friday.
“I requested and hoped for an apology. That was all. Had he agreed, this matter could have ended. He declined to do so and the matter is now before the courts,” Wenzel said in the statement.
A statement of claim filed Nov. 13 states Nenshi “developed an overarching civic election campaign strategy to smear Wenzel for political gain.”
“Nenshi planned to use Wenzel as a foil to his political ambitions and aspirations, which were contingent on the election of a sufficient number of city councillors who shared and supported Nenshi’s political agenda,” states the document, which was filed in Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench.
The statement of claim details the history between the veteran home builder and Nenshi, including a video that surfaced in April and showed Wenzel speaking to industry executives at a private meeting in November 2012.
In the surreptitiously recorded video, the Shane Homes founder divided council members into “our side” and the “dark side” and spoke of ambitions to promote developer-friendly councillors through direct donations and a $1.1-million injection into the conservative Manning Centre.
The court document states Nenshi chose to distort Wenzel’s comments in the leaked video, and as a result, Wenzel “unwittingly became a focal point in the 2013 Calgary municipal election rhetoric through Nenshi’s purposeful efforts.”
The court document also details specific defamation comments including a conversation between David Gray of CBC Radio One and Nenshi during the Eyeopener program on Oct. 9, 2013.
The conversation included “false and maliciously spoken words by Nenshi,” the court document states. Those “defamatory words” were understood to mean Wenzel deliberately broke the law and “Wenzel is the head of a mafia-like organization that is working to disrupt municipal politics utilizing immoral or illegal practices,” states the document.
A statement of defence has not yet been filed. None of the allegations are proven.
The mayor’s assistant Daorcey Le Bray said Nenshi would not speak about the matter until he has been legally served, which is expected to happen next week.
A communications consultant with the City of Calgary’s law department said every case is unique and the department hasn’t formulated an opinion on this one because they have yet to receive the documents. When pressed on who would foot the mayor’s legal costs, Heather Geddes said it is possible taxpayers could be on the line.
A council policy states that if any member of council has litigation brought against him or her resulting from carrying out duties as a council member, he or she has the right to bring the matter before council to seek payment of legal costs.
In Friday’s statement, Wenzel said he waited until after the election was over to sue Nenshi “so as not to create a sideshow that would distract from important city issues.”
The court document claims Wenzel has suffered damages including a death threat to him and his family and emotional distress and humiliation.
The statement of claim seeks $5 million in damages and an additional $1 million in punitive, aggravated and exemplary damages.
Wenzel, who has been building homes in Calgary since 1979, said monetary compensation is not his primary motivation for the lawsuit. Any damages Wenzel receives will be donated or otherwise directed into charitable works, the statement said.
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