District of Invermere Mayor Gerry Taft’s appeal to a defamation suit judgement resulted in decreased damage amounts he is required to pay to plaintiff Devin Kazakoff.
Mr. Taft and Mr. Kazakoff faced off in a court case following an online comment in regards to deer management. Mr. Kazakoff’s lawyers asked for an apology from Mr. Taft for his remarks then sought legal resolution, in which Mr. Kazakoff asked for $175,000 in general, punitive, and aggravated damages. A Supreme Court of British Columbia judgement, released in May 2017, ordered Mr. Taft to pay $50,000 for general damages and $25,000 for aggravated damages, totalling a fee of $75,000.
In the appeal, released June 18th, 2018, the damages were decreased to $35,000, and each party ordered to bear their own costs for the appeal case.
“I’m disappointed to some degree some of the findings of the trial judge were not reversed by the court of appeal,” Mr. Taft told the Pioneer. “I’m happy that the damage amounts and the award of legal costs has been decreased.”
Mr. Taft said going into the appeal process, it was made clear to him that appeals are an “uphill battle,” and that the appeal court is unlikely to want to change a lot.
“It’s not a retrial; it’s very much just looking at the rules of law, so their scope is quite narrow,” said Mr. Taft.
Mr. Taft says he never thought the lawsuit would lead to this result.
“At the time, the whole thing seemed kind of ridiculous; I never thought it would go this far and I never thought it would get this expensive.”
Mr. Taft requested support from municipal insurance to help cover his legal
fees. He lobbied for the coverage, but the District of Invermere and municipal insurance declined to indemnify him. However, following the initial trial, he did end up receiving some support because of a dispute mechanism process for municipal insurance involving an independent insurance lawyer.
The process was stressful and frustrating, and could be a deterrent for future politicians when they know their personal or business interests could be impacted, says Mr. Taft. All told, he is looking at about $60,000 in legal fees, and could be on the hook for more costs, plus the $35,000 announced in the appeal, which means Mr. Taft is now figuring out how to foot a potential $125,000 bill.
Mr. Kazakoff did not return repeated Pioneer requests for an interview.