The Port Alberni Shelter Society and two of its employees have won a defamation lawsuit against Graham Hughes over a homelessness campaign in late 2020. Hughes’ employer, Literacy Alberni Society, was also held liable.
The Supreme Court of British Columbia issued the decision on Tuesday, July 20, 2021 ordering Hughes and Literacy Alberni Society to pay damages totalling $344,720.75 to PASS, its executive director Wes Hewitt and employee John Douglas. The total includes punitive, aggravated and general damages, and Literacy Alberni Society was found “vicariously liable” for the judgment against Hughes, according to the decision.
Justice Matthews also issued a permanent injunction requiring Hughes to remove all of his internet postings determined to be defamatory as well as any links to statements that he controls, and to stop both defendants from making similar postings.
Defamation is characterized as a statement or statements that damage a third party’s reputation. Defamation includes both written statements (libel) and spoken statements (slander).
In September and October 2020, Hughes began a verbal and written campaign critical of practices at Port Alberni Shelter Society. Much of his criticism on social media was directed personally at Hewitt and Douglas. Hughes also ran unsuccessfully as an independent candidate for MLA for Mid Island-Pacific Rim in the 2020 provincial election with social advocacy as his platform.
In late October, Hughes led a sit-in in front of the Eighth Avenue shelter, which expanded to a “tent city” for a number of weeks. The protest prompted the City of Port Alberni to ask BC Housing, one of the agencies that provides funding and support to PASS, to review the shelter society’s practices. A review was conducted in late November and December 2020 and the report was released publicly in March 2021.
In November 2020, PASS, Hewitt and Douglas filed a notice of civil claim against Hughes and Literacy Alberni, claiming damages for defamation and seeking an injunction. The organization was concerned about inflammatory comments, misinformation and the resulting impact, according to Beddoes Litigation Law Corporation, which represented PASS, Hewitt and Douglas.
“While we are saddened that it had to come to this, the Port Alberni Shelter Society is grateful to have the court’s vindication after enduring months of such extreme and false allegations,” Hewitt said in a press release issued by Beddoes Litigation Law Corp.
“We look forward to putting this episode behind us, and continuing PASS’ important work providing services to our community’s most vulnerable citizens.”
Hughes said he plans to appeal the decision. He said he is in hospital waiting for emergency surgery so was unable to attend the hearing to defend himself. He added that he was not provided an opportunity to present evidence or provide affidavits in his own defence.
A representative from Literacy Alberni Society’s board of directors was not immediately available for comment.