Former Conservative cabinet minister and MP Helena Guergis’ lawsuit against Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP is a step closer to trial after a judge dismissed an appeal to strike two of Guergis’ claims against the firm and its lawyer Arthur Hamilton.
Guergis’ claim that Hamilton, a Conservative Party lawyer, caused former prime minister Stephen Harper to fire her in 2010 will have to be decided by a trial judge, Superior Court Justice Bonnie Warkentin said in a ruling this week.
The lawyers for Cassels Brock and Hamilton had argued the court should strike out this claim at the pleadings stage because Crown privilege prevents the court from inquiring into any aspect of Harper’s decisions, including any contribution to them by the Hamilton and Cassels Brock.
“As with the prior ruling, the threshold on a pleadings motion is low and much discretion is given to the judge hearing such a motion,” wrote Warkentin.
Warkentin also declined to reverse a motion judge’s decision not to strike out Guergis’ claim that she was in a solicitor-client relationship with Hamilton and he breached his duties to her through a testimony before a Parliamentary committee, which is protected by parliamentary privilege.
Guergis’ action against Harper and his ministers for conspiracy, defamation, misfeasance in public office, intentional infliction of mental suffering, and negligence was dismissed on the basis that the former prime minister’s decisions were protected by the exercise of Crown privilege and parliamentary prerogative.
But while Parliamentary privilege may protect Harper and his ministers’ actions, Guergis argues “those privileges could not be used by Hamilton to shield himself” and “there is no policy basis to excuse Hamilton’s behaviour on the same basis that shields a political decision by a Prime Minister.”
Cassels Brock and Hamilton argued the claim should be struck from the pleading because parliamentary privilege is absolute and there is no requirement to balance it against solicitor-client privilege.
Warkentin wrote: “It was open to the Motion Judge to find that the issue of parliamentary privilege versus solicitor and client confidentiality was an issue best determined by the trial judge rather than on a pleadings motion.”
Paul Le Vay, counsel to Cassels Brock, declined to comment on the ruling.
In 2010, Harper fired Guergis as a minister of for status of women and threw her out of his cabinet after allegations linked her and her husband, former MP Rahim Jaffer, to illicit drug use, prostitution, and fraud. The RCMP has since cleared Guergis of any wrongdoing.