Mayor William Steinberg and his wife Doris recently sent a legal notice to Councillor Jack Edery regarding an e-mail Edery sent to council and staff last year about beautification-related spending, it was revealed during a loud council debate.
The mis-en-demeure demands a retraction by Edery. The warning also includes a demand for $50,000 in 20 days from the receipt of the mis-en-demeure, which was sent June 17.
Should the case proceed, it will be in Quebec Court. The mayor is represented by Julius Grey. As a councillor at the time of the possible lawsuit, Edery's legal fees and any judgment against him will be covered by the town according to law, except for egregious circumstances, and thus Hampstead is represented by Fasken Martineau.
"We were told that you can’t sue for a retraction and apology alone, but must include an amount for damages," the Mayor told The Suburban. "However, all we want is the truth. If Councillor Edery issues a public retraction of everything he said about my wife in his e-mail and apologizes, we would drop the lawsuit. Should we go to court and win, we would donate the award to the Town. He is costing us money, but we cannot allow Councillor Edery’s defamation of my wife to go unchallenged."
Doris Steinberg volunteered to improve the town's beautification, which the Mayor said resulted in much praise for the work done, but she withdrew following the sending of the e-mail.
Edery responded publicly during the Aug. 2 council meeting to the legal notice.
"In the weeks leading up to July 27, 2020, certain residents were inquiring about the town's beautification program from a financial controls point of view," Edery said. "I set up a meeting with senior staff to better understand the program.
"The discussion left me bothered. I wrote an e-mail to council as well as senior staff outlining what I had learned, what I thought should be done in the short term to [resolve] the situation, and I asked my council to initiate an audit of the beautification program to establish best practices going forward."
Edery added that "if I were to retract a statement due to fear or reprisal, it would send out a clear and very negative message to all municipal councils and levels of government across this country, that dissent can be quashed through threats. I will not retract the truth, and I will not allow myself to be intimidated."
Steinberg responded that Edery's 2020 e-mail was defamatory and false, and that the subsequent audit showed his wife did nothing wrong.
"It's very nice that you are characterizing what we are doing as trying to intimidate a councillor doing his or her job," the Mayor said. "That's farcical. If a judge finds what you wrote, including comments suggesting that Doris was involved in $21,000 from the town that shouldn't have been spent, was defamatory, he will rule against you. And no councillor is protected from being sued for saying things that are false and defamatory."
Steinberg said he has "made it clear that Doris would be perfectly happy with a full retraction of all the falsehoods that you put in your e-mail, and an apology. But you don't want to do that. You'd rather let the town pay your legal costs."
Councillor Michael Goldwax countered that Steinberg initiated the lawsuit and thus his expenses cannot be covered by the town, while Edery is legally protected according to the Cities and Towns Act.
"Councillor Edery's colleagues are all too ready to spend taxpayers' money to defend him when he is the cause of this whole thing!" Steinberg angrily said. "He is the reason I had to pay my money to defend my good name and my wife's good name. I hope there will be nothing further anybody wants to say on this and we can let this be settled in court!"
Councillor Warren Budning said he feels it is "reprehensible that you [Steinberg] have to resort to litigation against one of your council members because you don't like what was put in an e-mail!
"What kind of message does this send to all elected officials?!...C'mon! Who's spending whose tax dollars? Right now, we're protecting Councillor Edery in case he's not re-elected and you decide to make sure his bills aren't paid!
"Essentially, what you're doing is suing the town," Edery told Steinberg.
"That's very disingenuous!" Steinberg said. "You (Edery) are taking advantage of the fact that you can ask the town to cover your legal fees! I am defending my integrity and my wife's integrity and I have every right to do that, and being a Mayor doesn't take away those rights! You don't want to apologize! You don't want to retract clearly false statements! You want to keep going and let the town pay! We'll see how this all ends! For the councillors defending Councillor Edery, I would like to remind you that your duty is to the taxpayers of this town, not to your colleagues on council!"
"Can we go on [with the meeting] please?" said Councillor Harvey Shaffer.
"Thank you for suggesting going on," Steinberg said.