CUPW sues Wiesenthal CEO Benlolo, Sun Media for defamation

Avi Benlolo, left, and Jerry Agar

TORONTO — One of Canada’s largest unions is suing Sun Media Corp. and Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, for saying it supports terrorism.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) is seeking $250,000 in damages for defamation from Sun Media’s parent company, Quebecor Media Inc., alleging it was smeared in a Sun News Network segment last summer.

The July 24 segment, titled Hamas, CUPW Flags Fly on Parliament Hill, which featured host Jerry Agar and guest Benlolo, blasted CUPW members for taking part in a pro-Palestinian protest in Ottawa the day before.

The broadcast said CUPW banners were flown near Hamas flags, and pointed out that Hamas is a banned terrorist organization in Canada.

A statement of claim filed in Ottawa on behalf of the union said the broadcast made “many untrue, disparaging statements about CUPW and its members,” including that CUPW has often “lent [its] support to terrorist organizations,” and that it “has a history of partnering up with hate groups.”

Agar and Benlolo “wrongfully state” that CUPW supports or partners with terrorist and hate groups, and Hamas in particular, the claim said.

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

The segment remains available on the Sun News website.

The filing said CUPW was also defamed in a later column Agar wrote in the Toronto Sun and its online edition, headlined “Hamas goes postal? Only in Canada.” The column, the claim stated, also contains “many false, disparaging and defamatory statements about CUPW and its members,” including that they support “the genocide of the Jewish People.”

A statement of defence filed on behalf of Sun Media and Agar said the flag of Hamas was “prominently displayed” at the July 23 pro-Palestinian demonstration in Ottawa.

The statement noted that the Hamas charter calls for the “dissolution of Israel,” and that the federal government designated it a terrorist organization in 2002.

It added that the flag or banner of CUPW was also “prominently displayed” at the protest, “in proximity to the flag of Hamas.”

The statement also cited an email from CUPW in response to a request for comment from a Sun News producer.

As cited in the statement of defence, the email, from CUPW spokesperson Aalya Ahmad, said, “Working people have as much right as anybody to hold and express opinions on international issues. Our members support the human rights of the Palestinian people and want an end to the violence and killing.

“CUPW condemns the current position of the Harper government in attempting to justify the unjustifiable. By making excuses for Israel’s actions, the Canadian government is promoting war against the Palestinian people. Our government should be promoting peace, not war. The only way to achieve a lasting peace is through justice.”

The email, as quoted, went on to say: “Our position on Israel and Palestine is established by a democratic process of debate followed by a vote. As postal workers, we stand by our actions in the face of propaganda efforts to silence and defame supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. It is simply the right thing to do.”

The broadcast was “true” and constituted “fair comment,” the defence filing stated. Alternatively, it added, the broadcast and Agar’s column constituted “responsible communication concerning matters in the public interest.” Sun Media “has a duty to report” on such matters.

Benlolo told The CJN he could not comment, as the matter is before the courts.

In an email to The CJN, Steven Cavanagh, Benlolo’s lawyer, said his client is represented separately, “and that the statement of defence that has been delivered on behalf of the Sun News defendants does not apply to him. If it becomes necessary for him to file a defence to this claim, that will not occur until sometime in 2015.” n