Fr. Raymond Gravel is suing LSN for alleged defamation. Register file photo

LifeSiteNews responds in defamation suit

  • March 21, 2012

OTTAWA - A year after Quebec priest Fr. Raymond Gravel filed a $500,000 defamation lawsuit against LifeSiteNews (LSN), the online pro-life news service has filed a defence that argues the lawsuit is an attack on press freedom.

On its website, LSN wrote it is “now free to present many of the disturbing details about what we will argue is an abusive and politically-motivated lawsuit that amounts to an extreme attack on freedom of the press and freedom of speech.”

The defendants will argue Gravel’s “use of the courts is excessive and unreasonable, and his goal is to settle the score with his political adversaries.”

“His primary objective, it will be argued, is to limit the defendants’ freedom of expression within the context of highly public debates on abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia, seeking to deprive them of the opportunity to fully exercise their constitutionally-protected rights — rights that are crucial to fulfilling their jobs as journalists.”

In his statement of claim filed a year ago, Gravel’s lawyers said LSN articles were responsible for the Vatican forcing him to choose between continuing as a Member of Parliament or the priesthood. A priest for more than 25 years of the Joliette diocese, Gravel served as a Bloc Quebecois MP from 2006-2008, representing the Repentigny riding. He opted not to run in 2008.

The priest’s statement of claim argued he was defamed by being called “pro-abortion” and by being represented as a “renegade” who is the “shame of the Church.” The claim also accused LSN of writing the priest is “guilty of serious doctrinal errors” and has tried to undermine the Church.

Gravel’s claim also complained of factual errors in several stories and accused LSN of malice. It describes the priest as opposed to abortion and believing that life begins at conception.

LSN will argue that if anyone has damaged Gravel’s reputation it is the priest himself, through his many articles and interviews in other media that the pro-life news agency merely reported to its readers. LSN also said the priest has also repeated what was said about him in multiple venues since then, thus spreading the information far wider than LSN could.

“Fr. Raymond Gravel’s motion against LifeSiteNews in the Superior Court of Québec has almost systematically ignored the declarations and triggering actions that he initiated, and to which the defendants simply responded in their articles, in an ‘action-reaction’ manner that was illustrated in the numerous exhibits the plaintiff presented,” LSN says on its website. “This is an important aspect of the case that the defendants will present to the court.”

In a nearly 100-page defence filed with the Quebec Superior Court in Joliette, LSN shows the cause-and-effect relationship between many articles, open letters and news interviews in other media outlets that prompted the coverage by LSN.

LSN points out Gravel has described himself as “pro-choice” on abortion, and claims it reported accurately on the priest’s criticism of the Church’s teachings on homosexuality. The defence quotes a number of articles and interviews published by other news outlets, from La Presse to various magazines and the CBC.

In the midst of a sluggish spring fundraising campaign to meet operating expenses, LSN must raise an additional $130,000 to pay its legal bills. It wrote recently: “ . . . we simply do not have the $130,000 to fight what we believe is a nuisance lawsuit.”

Gravel also sued five LSN journalists individually, as well as Quebec Campagne-Vie, a pro-life organization that has no official ties to LSN.

Gravel’s lawyer Jean-Philippe Lemire said in an email he is “not authorized to make any comments about the case for the moment.”

LSN editor John-Henry Westen, an individual defendent in the case, said much of the case hinges on whether it is defamatory to call someone who admits to being pro-choice “pro-abortion.”

“Think what that would do for our own communications if we are unable to use the terminology of our choice but must use that of people who support abortion,” Westen said.

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