Judge dismisses defamation lawsuit filed by Merritt-area First Nation's chief, council

Defamation suit thrown out

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has thrown out a defamation lawsuit filed by the chief and council of a Merritt-area First Nation against a mother and son who took to social media to make accusations of cronyism and shady dealings following a band election last year.

Yvonne Ned and Zachary Astakeesic were sued by a group of 13 individuals — the Upper Nicola Band’s Chief Daniel Manuel, as well as council and administration — over alleged defamatory comments made online last year.

Ned ran unsuccessfully for chief in the Upper Nicola Band’s election in March of last year and Astakeesic claims to have been disqualified from running by Manuel on the eve of the election. The defamatory comments are alleged to have been made online in the months that followed the vote — between May and July of 2023.

Their posts alleged that the election was carried out illegally, that Manuel was ineligible to run under the band’s own regulations, that allegations of sexual abuse were not properly investigated, that Astakeesic’s application for land allocation was wrongly denied and that Ned was fired from her job with the BC Native Women’s Association by Manuel’s wife immediately following the election.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Dennis Hori ruled Ned and Astakeesic were within their rights. He found that their comments were justified because court was not shown any evidence that the claims made in the posts were untrue.

The lawsuit was dismissed under B.C.’s anti-SLAPP legislation, which outlaws legal proceedings aimed at silencing individuals or organizations on matters of public interest.

Hori found that Ned and Astakeesic were “motivated by malice” in making their posts about Manuel and the band, but that did not change his decision.

“The existence of friction and animosity between Mr. Astakeesic and the plaintiffs, Ms. Ned’s loss of the election to Chief Manuel and the expressions that fall outside the scope of qualified privilege tend to tilt the scale more in favour of the plaintiffs on the malice issue,” he said, noting such a finding would have taken away defences of fair comment and qualified privilege from Ned and Astakeesic.

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