Manitoba health minister sued for defamation after criticizing lease agreement with facility for at-risk kids

By | May 16, 2020

The owners of a Winnipeg building that housed at-risk youth are suing Manitoba’s health minister for defamation for comments he made about the space last summer.

In a statement of claim filed in the province’s Court of Queen’s Bench on May 12, Peter Ginakes and Ken Cranwill allege Health Minister Cameron Friesen made statements that were “defamatory, untrue and were maliciously stated” with the intention to “disparage and cause loss and damage to the plaintiffs.”

The plaintiffs include the numbered company that owns the building, along with Ginakes and Cranwill, who are identified as company shareholders. They are seeking unspecified damages for defamation, and want an order directing Friesen to write a public apology for the statements.

It’s the second lawsuit the landlords of 800 Adele Ave. have filed against provincial officials, after the government moved to end a lease with the child-care organization that was renting the space.

The lawsuit stems from comments Friesen made about this building at 800 Adele Ave. (CBC)

The lease agreement between the Southern First Nations Network of Care and the numbered company that owns the property began on Feb. 1, 2009, and was supposed to continue until Jan. 31, 2029, the lawsuit says.

Last spring, the province introduced legislation that would prematurely end the contract for the use of the 18,000-square-foot facility.

That move led Ginakes and Cranwill to sue the province, Premier Brian Pallister, Finance Minister Scott Fielding and Crown Services deputy minister Scott Sinclair last summer.

The lawsuit filed this month focuses on comments Friesen allegedly made to a reporter last August at an election forum at the Asper Jewish Community Campus.

The lawsuit says the statements were made in response to the question: “Why would this government plan to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on new health facilities when they have an existing lease at 800 Adele that they want to shutter?”

Friesen said the building was “just another bad, untendered NDP deal,” “no good” and that it was three times the market price and had no air conditioning or elevator, according to the lawsuit.

Damage to reputation: lawsuit

The suit alleges that Friesen made further comments about the building to the same reporter later that evening, saying that “800 Adele was a crappy building and that there was more to the story.”

None of the allegations have been tested in court and no statement of defence has been filed. A government spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday morning.

A portion of the facility became vacant in 2014 because of two instances of water damage that forced tenants to vacate the space, the province told CBC News in 2016.

In a statement last spring, the province said the large office portion of the building has been vacant since 2013, and the residential portion was never fully occupied.

The statement of claim says the child welfare agency only entered into the lease agreement after it “conducted extensive research to find a suitable property.”

It also says, pursuant to the provisions of that agreement, the landlord “made a number of leasehold improvements in the amount of $1,500,000, at the request of the tenant.”

The lawsuit alleges the statements Friesen made “were understood to mean that the individual plaintiffs acted in a manner that was unethical and unbusinesslike,” and that he made them “maliciously, knowing that they were false, or alternatively, recklessly.”

The lawsuit says Friesen knew, or should have known, that the statements he made to the reporter would be published and/or broadcast.

It also alleges that as a result of those statements, the plaintiffs “have suffered damage to their reputation in the community at large and in the business community and further say that in particular their honesty and integrity have been impugned.” 

The lawsuit says the statements “morally discredited” the plaintiffs and resulted in “harm and damage, loss of reputation and loss of opportunity.”

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