Linda Frum says she consulted with security experts in the United States—and had them conduct a risk assessment—before she decided to fight a defamation lawsuit filed by an Arabic-language newspaper.
The former senator tweeted that the Montreal paper, Sada Al Mashrek, was the official voice of Hezbollah in Canada, which she corrected to “unofficial” voice, in response to a reply on Twitter.
Hezbollah has been designated as a terrorist organization by the Canadian government.
In an interview with The CJN, Frum said she consulted terror experts who were familiar with Hezbollah as the case was proceeding.
“I don’t want to sound glib, because taking this on, no matter who you are, it is a burden, it is oppressive and it can be frightening at times when you think ‘who am I up against exactly.’ I’m up against people who are aligned and support Hezbollah. That’s not an easy fight to engage in.”
The lawsuit alleged that Frum had damaged the paper’s reputation and financial situation, after two tweets she wrote in April 2022 relating to an interview with Patrick Brown, while he was campaigning for the leadership of the federal Conservative party.
Frum filed an anti-SLAPP motion to have the suit dismissed, arguing among other things, that the suit violated her right to free speech. (Anti-SLAPP motions allow for a lawsuit to dismissed at an early stage if the suit is intended to limit public participation).
The lawsuit, which sought $2.5 million in damages, was dismissed May 15 by Superior Court Justice Loretta Merritt.
“In my view, this case is about Sada wanting to silence Frum (and her network) and not about any real damage to Sada,” Justice Merritt wrote in her decision. “The potential harm to Sada is not sufficiently serious that the public interest in allowing its defamation case to proceed outweighs the public interest in protecting Frum’s expression.”
Frum retired from the Senate in 2021 and took on the volunteer role of chair of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. She is currently the chair of UJA’s Countering Antisemitism and Hate Committee.
During the Conservative leadership race, when Brown gave the interview to Sada, Frum’s husband, Howard Sokolowski, was co-chair of the fundraising campaign for Pierre Poilievre, who ultimately won the leadership contest.
As Federation chair, Frum remained neutral during the leadership race, although Poilievre is a friend, she said. Her support for the current party leader had no influence on her tweets.
“In my position as UJA Federation chair, my job is to look out for the interests of the Jewish community,” she said. “I felt that the calling-out of what Patrick Brown said was actually a necessary thing for me to do as a Jewish leader and it was beyond any sense of partisan choice between the candidates.”
Frum tweeted that Brown’s interview had raised “many red flags” comparing the situation of Palestinians to Ukrainian refugees and his opposition to Conservative Party policy to move Canada’s embassy to Jerusalem.
The lawsuit was intended to intimidate her, she said, especially since the paper was seeking an “outrageous” sum of money.
In the decision, Justice Merritt noted that the $2 million Sada sought in damages was “equal to 100 years of its annual revenue of approximately $20,000” and the paper did not offer any evidence of financial losses from the tweets.
The defamation lawsuit will ultimately backfire, Frum said. The tweets were initially just retweeted by a handful of people, until the case was publicized in the last week. The judge has yet to rule on costs, but it will be “very expensive,” for the paper, Frum said.
Although Frum’s legal costs were significant, she said she did not consider settling the matter quietly and out of court.
“I knew if they intimidated me into deleting tweets, then that would get them really excited and it would only be a matter of time, before they started approaching… other people in the community to say ‘delete the tweets.’ I did feel there was an extremely important principle to defend here.”
While she was not the first to comment on the newspaper, Frum said she was targeted because she is Jewish.
“This was just taking a real shot at me, as a representative of my community, as a Zionist.”
The court concurred with Frum on this. The decision stated, “What is really going on in this case is exactly what Mr. Hussein Hobolah (principal of Sada) says in his affidavit: Sada thinks it is a tragedy that the Canadian Government has not done more to help the Palestinians, and this is because Ms. Frum and her network detract attention from Israel.”
Lawyer Stephen Ellis, who represented Sada, did not respond to an emailed request for comment from The CJN.