March 3rd, 2024

Redcliff officials win defamation case in 15-year public dispute

By COLLIN GALLANT on February 10, 2024.

This townhouse development one block north of town hall in Redcliff is centre to a 13-year legal battle that saw a $120,000 defamation judgment levied against the developer late last month.--News Photo

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

Redcliff’s former mayor and two senior town staffers have won a resounding court judgment for defamation against a longtime critic who alleged criminal misconduct had taken place during her 15-year public dispute over a development project.

In a Kings Bench ruling published Jan. 26, Justice Nick Devlin found Danica Prpick defamed former mayor Rob Hazelaar, former town manager Randy Geisbrecht and staffer Shanon Simon, who were each awarded $40,000 in damages, plus undetermined legal costs.

She is also barred from continuing to make accusations in the future.

One plaintiff told the News she was pleased the lengthy legal issue had concluded.

Prpick, who represented herself in the action, did not return a telephone call seeking comment Friday.

In court, Prpick claimed in her defence she had not specifically named the individuals in a 2015 letter sent to the media, the provincial government and the RCMP claiming there was “organized crime” in Redcliff. Further, she believed the allegations were true and subject to fair comment defence.

The court disagreed following 18 days of hearings in late 2022 and 2023.

“(The allegations in the letter are) not true, is not fair comment, and was published with actual malice, defeating any qualified privilege. Ms. Prpick defamed the plaintiffs and has no defence,” wrote Justice N.E. Devlin in summary of his 58-page decision.

“On almost every allegation, Ms. Prpick jumps from innocuous or mundane events to a conclusion of criminal mendacity. The yawning logical chasm between those two points is bridged by her animosity towards Redcliff and its officials.”

At issue in the case was a letter sent in 2015 to the News, the Cypress Courier and local and regional TV stations, plus several provincial and law enforcement officials by Prpick stating the town had a second set of accounting books, had misappropriated grant funding, had set up an illegal revenue streams from land development, had committed forgery and that millions of dollars was missing in public dollars.

A second letter to her bank outlines the town as responsible for her financial situation – evidence revealed by Prpick during her lawsuit against the town over its handling of her building project.

Prpick’s development company, Debut Developments, built townhouse complexes in Redcliff in the late 2000s, eventually selling them at a loss, according to court documents. She attributed the financial loss to bureaucratic mistakes and actions of the town in a 2011 lawsuit.

That case was joined with the defamation action, with the court concluding Prpick’s long list of grievances against the town did not amount to demonstrable wrongdoing.

“At worst, they showed Redcliff to be a small municipality that occasionally suffered clerical errors, imprecision, and process-flow problems in relation to developments during the 2000s,” wrote Devlin.

Later he added: “She has spent more than a decade trying to investigate, publicize, and litigate the nebulous state of wrongness in Redcliff that she holds responsible for the difficulties that she and others have experienced. Everything that has occurred leading to this lawsuit is a product of this mindset, which has become troublingly intense and conspiracy based.”

The ruling outlines a long list of specific complaints, including her belief that a Municipal Affairs audit of the town in the early 2010s was insufficient and also the town had imposed a local improvement tax for lane paving that went over budget.

It also states Prpick and her supporters engaged the RCMP on at least four occasions in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019 to investigate town operation or reopen investigations.

Two reports, including a case review by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, concluded investigations were handled properly and allegations were not substantiated.

Costs in the court case are to be determined at a later date.

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