A lawyer for the provincial government claims managers at the Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority (MRHA) acted out of “honest but mistaken belief of fact” when they denied two employees had witnessed a shooting at work.

As the Halifax Examiner reported in January, Jason Ashley and Gareth Boudreau filed notice of action via lawyer Douglas Lutz. Their statement of claim named the province and seven MRHA managers. Those are: Jamie Vigliarolo, Jane Clark, Mark Pace, Curtis Coward, Bob Driscoll, Sandra LaForge, and Ed Lake.

The two employees were working at MRHA’s Westwood public housing community in October 2020 when they witnessed a shooting. Halifax Regional Police confirmed the shooting, and announced it in a news release. Police later told MRHA they’d closed the case because Ashley and Boudreau were the only witnesses.

Ashley and Boudreau alleged in their statement of claim that their managers started denying the shooting had ever happened.

“Commencing in December, 2020 the Defendants made a concerted effort to defame, gaslight and vilify Jason and Gareth in order to cast doubt on their credibility and to cover up MRHA’s culpability in exposing the Plaintiffs to the shooting,” Lutz wrote.

“The acts and omissions of MRHA in defaming the Plaintiffs, gaslighting and vilifying the Plaintiffs, were intentional, high handed, reprehensible, callous, and deserving of an award of punitive, aggravated and exemplary damages.”

Province claims ‘honest but mistaken belief of fact’

Provincial government lawyer Duane Eddy filed in a notice of defence in Kentville Supreme Court on Feb. 27 on behalf of the province and all seven MRHA managers. He claimed the managers misunderstood correspondence from Halifax Regional Police.

“To the extent that the Defendants made statements or used words to the effect that police ‘could not confirm’ that a shooting occurred; or that ‘there was no evidence to support the incident occurred and the case was closed’, was inaccurate or was based on a misinterpretation of Det. [Const. Terry] Poole’s email correspondence dated December 8, 2020 that: At this time due to lack of supporting evidence I am closing the investigation’, the Defendants plead honest but mistaken belief of fact,” Eddy wrote (emphasis in original).

Poole’s statement “made the facts and circumstances pertaining to the shooting unclear to some of the Defendants,” Eddy wrote.

“This the Defendants plead was not intentional or done with malice or otherwise.”

All the defendants’ actions were in good faith, Eddy wrote. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, they claim immunity from civil action.

Plaintiffs should sue workers comp instead, says lawyer

Eddy wrote that the plaintiffs are receiving benefits from the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) due to their trauma from witnessing the shooting. WCB has since notified MRHA that neither Ashley or Boudreau can come back to work.

“The Defendants plead that the alleged cause of action for Defamation and Negligent or
Intentional Infliction of Mental Suffering, and any alleged loss, damage, or harm set forth in the Statement of Claim, arose within the Plaintiffs workplace. Consequently, the Defendants plead that the alleged loss, damage, or harm alleged and set forth in the Statement of Claim, and connected to the shooting, is insured, pursuant to the Workers Compensation Act,” Eddy wrote.

The workers have “no standing to file a lawsuit in this matter,” Eddy contends, and it’s “statue barred” under the Workers Compensation Act. Further, Eddy argued the plaintiffs should serve their statement of claim to WCB.

If that doesn’t cover the defendants, Eddy also argued the action can’t proceed because “the allegations and cause of action in the Statement of Claim are the exclusive jurisdiction” of their collective agreement.

“The Defendants plead that disputes arising out of collectively bargained relationships must be resolved at grievance arbitration,” Eddy wrote.

“The Defendants plead that the grievance arbitrator has exclusive jurisdiction over the Plaintiffs’ alleged cause of action against the Defendants, inclusive of the entire dispute between the Plaintiffs and the Defendants.”

There’s no hearing scheduled in the matter.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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