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Lawyer who defended Patrick Brown on Facebook threatens to sue Ontario Conservatives for libel


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A lawyer whose firm was sacked by the Ontario Conservative party after he publicly questioned sexual-misconduct allegations against ex-leader Patrick Brown is now threatening to sue party officials if they don’t immediately apologize to him.

It’s the latest sign of deep divisions within the provincial Conservatives, as Brown vies to regain the job he quit under pressure three weeks ago.

Joseph Villeneuve — a friend and law-school classmate of Brown’s — served a libel notice on Alykhan Velshi, chief of staff to interim Tory leader Vic Fedeli, and Jag Bhadwal, the party’s president, accusing them of maliciously attacking his reputation as a lawyer.

The notice cites a National Post article earlier this month. The story quoted a Conservative source as saying that Velshi had canceled the party’s retainer with Villeneuve’s law firm, Zuber and Company, shortly after seeing his Facebook posts casting doubt on Brown’s accusers.

The letter from lawyer Iain MacKinnon — a precursor to an actual libel lawsuit — also refers to comments by the same source that Fedeli’s office was forwarding the posts to the Law Society of Upper Canada, which regulates Ontario’s lawyers.

Pictured Patrick Brown (L) and Joseph (Joe) Villeneuve (R). Villeneuve is a friend and law school-classmate of Brown’s.

“The clear implication and innuendo from the statement … is that Mr. Villeneuve has violated his ethical obligations, committed professional misconduct and breached the terms of his retainer with the PCPO,” says the notice. “Such suggestions are categorically false and damaging to Mr. Villeneuve’s reputation.”

A spokesman for Fedeli declined to comment, except to say that the notice was received on the Friday of a long weekend and that “Mr. Velshi is in the process of retaining legal counsel.”

Brown’s resignation, coming hours after the allegations surfaced Jan. 24, has split the Ontario Tories.

Fedeli pledged to root out “rot” he says was left behind by the former leader, and has been backed by the first four leadership candidates — Doug Ford, Caroline Mulroney, Christine Elliott and Tanya Granic Allen. Many other party activists, however, stayed loyal to Brown, insisting that he was unjustly forced out of the post.

The libel notice also says Villeneuve himself had actually quit as a lawyer for the party on Jan. 25, the morning after Brown’s sudden resignation as leader — and a week before the cancellation of the firm’s retainer.

The lawyer said Monday that he dropped the Tories as a client expressly so he could help his friend.

“I wanted to ensure that there was no breach of my ethical obligations,” Villeneuve said. “So long as I remained on record for the PCPO, I knew I was neutered. So I did what was proper and resigned.”

On Facebook earlier this month, the lawyer questioned the veracity of the allegations against Brown, made in a CTV News story, and the accusers’ relationship with CTV journalists.

“I see a pattern of innuendo and allegations masquerading as truth despite no court proceedings!” he wrote. Villeneuve also posted that people should demand Brown’s reinstatement as leader or else “do not vote PC.”

Brown later emerged to say the charges were lies, and to suggest there was a conspiracy to topple him as leader, while he and others questioned details of the women’s accounts.

Last Friday, declaring that his name had been cleared, Brown stunned the political world by joining the leadership race called to replace him.

Villeneuve’s libel notice says Velshi and the party must retract the source’s statements in writing to the Post “immediately.” If they fail to do so, he says he will start court action.

Villeneuve had been working on a controversial lawsuit by the PCs against Jim Karahalios, a dissident TOry from Cambridge, Ont. It accused Karahalios of using a confidential party membership list to send out newsletters criticizing Brown’s policies, including support for a carbon tax. A judge dismissed the case in December, calling it a “SLAPP” suit designed to quash public dissent.

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