Court rejects lawsuits filed by former cabinet ministers in Newfoundland and Labrador

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — A court in Newfoundland and Labrador has rejected separate lawsuits filed by two former cabinet ministers who were kicked out of the Liberal caucus four years ago.

Eddie Joyce and Dale Kirby were also removed from cabinet in April 2018 after harassment allegations surfaced against them.

Both responded by filing separate civil lawsuits against several members of the legislature, alleging the complaints had damaged their reputations and led to financial losses.

In two separate decisions released two weeks ago, Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Justice Sandra Chaytor dismissed each lawsuit, saying virtually all of the allegations were covered by parliamentary privilege, which meant the court lacked jurisdiction.

"The discipline of Joyce is protected by the house of assembly's parliamentary privilege over its internal affairs," the judge's decision on the Joyce case said. "The process employed in the exercise of that privilege is not subject to oversight by the court."

In Kirby's case, Chaytor said allegations of defamation were not covered by parliamentary privilege but were not supported by requisite facts. As a result, Chaytor allowed Kirby to file an amended statement of claim.

When Kirby and Joyce were ejected from caucus in 2018, Kirby was education minister and Joyce was minister of municipal affairs and the environment.

The legislature's then-commissioner for legislative standards was called to investigate. Bruce Chaulk found that both Kirby and Joyce had breached the legislature's code of conduct, but he did not find either guilty of harassment.

The incidents described in Chaulk's five investigation reports included that Kirby allegedly told member of the legislature Pam Parsons, "You're beautiful and I love you," before he suggested she should stop being so vocal. As well, both Joyce and Kirby were accused of using profane language toward other members.

One report referenced an interview with Cathy Bennett, a former finance minister, citing a culture of intimidation in cabinet.

In local media interviews, Bennett said she often felt isolated and the target of "whisper campaigns" before she quit her cabinet post in July 2017. She cited personal reasons at the time, but she later blamed what she described as bullying in the caucus. She also noted that leaders have a duty to set behavioural tone.

As for the premier, Ball had said he wasn't aware of bullying within his cabinet before complaints began surfacing in late April 2018.

After he submitted his reports, Chaulk recommended the legislature reprimand the two men.

Lawmakers voted to compel both to apologize to the house, though the two maintained they did not breach conduct rules.

In April 2019, a legislature committee released a proposed workplace policy to deal with harassment and bullying, after consultations found concerns over gender-based harassment and power imbalances between elected members.

An anti-harassment workplace policy for government officials came into effect in June 2018.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 3, 2023.

The Canadian Press