by Sam Heaton
~ UPDATED SEPT. 25 ~
The law firm CazaSaikaley on Sept. 11, 2014 served rabble.ca, Mathieu Murphy-Perron, and Jarrah Hodge with a legal threat regarding the publication of an article on the “Fuck Safe Space” t-shirts worn by a few Carleton University Orientation leaders in early September, according to documents obtained by the Leveller.
The letter indicates that CazaSaikaley was retained by the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) “on behalf of Alexander Golovko and the members of the CUSA Administration.” It states that it “serves as notice of our clients’ intention” to commence legal action.”
Golovko was the 2013-2014 CUSA President, and is now an employee of Carleton University, working as Leadership Coordinator in the Student Experience Office.
Murphy-Perron wrote and published the article to his blog matness on Sept. 7, from which it was later republished by rabble.ca, and linked to on Hodge’s website Gender Focus, among others.
The article, published on rabble.ca under the title “Carleton ‘F*ck Safe Space’ scandal legacy of conservative student union takeover,” argued that a number of political developments at Carleton contributed to attacking progressive culture on campus and creating a situation in which the anti-safe space sentiments could flourish.
In the notice, Katie Black of CazaSaikaley claims that excerpts from the article are “designed to destroy our clients’ impeccable reputation and cause harm to their families.”
The documents also state that “such defamatory statements attract significant civil damages.”
Black threatens that, in addition to civil damages, significant general, aggravated, and punitive damages would be sought. Black specifically cites the case of Hill v. Scientology in which nearly $2 million in total damages were awarded to the claimant.
Black further states that claims made in the article “were intentionally designed to scare my clients into not participating in next year’s electoral race at Carleton.”
CUSA and Golovko demand in the letter that rabble.ca, Murphy-Perron and Hodge cease and desist from publishing anything further comment that reiterates the points made in the article, that the article and links to it are removed from the web, and that $300 be paid to cover legal fees.
Black said in the letter that “unless we hear back from you within the next 24 hours, we have instructions to take any and all legal action against you to obtain significant damages resulting from your defamation of our clients.”
At the time of publication, the Leveller is not aware of any legal action initiated against rabble.ca, Murphy-Perron or Hodge.
In CUSA’s 2014-2015 budget, adopted at an emergency CUSA Council meeting on Aug. 6, $39,623 was listed as actual revenue for the previous year under the section for legal expenditures.
Alexander Golovko and CUSA President Folarin Odunayo could not be reached by the Leveller for comment before the article was first published on September 22.
Update September 25
On September 24, CUSA released a statement on the legal threats via its website. The statement incorrectly claims that an earlier version of this article suggested CUSA was actively involved in a legal dispute, as opposed to issuing a threatening letter.
The statement says that the letter from CazaSaikaley “was issued after careful consideration of the content of Mr. Murphy-Perron’s article,” of which they said a significant portion was “non-factual and did not accurately represent the work and reputation of this student association.”
According to the CUSA statement, the organization’s former president, Alexander Golovko, was included as a claimant in the letter due to his term as president being referenced in Murphy-Perron’s article.
The CUSA statement did not name Jarrah Hodge, one of the recipients of CUSA’s legal threat. Odunayo told the Leveller that this was an oversight and did not reflect a change in position.
At the Sept. 24 meeting of CUSA Council, Humanities Councillor Roy Sengupta asked whether the CUSA president found it concerning that “we are essentially reviving the litigation culture of this organization through basically pursuing a private political interest using public resources.”
“As of this point, the article in question said a lot of inappropriate things about CUSA’s actions, things that CUSA had done. At some point in the life of an organization or in your life, you must stand up and say something,” replied Odunayo. “We’re not going to accept the facts or opinions of some guy who is, quite frankly, irrelevant,” he added, referencing Murphy-Perron.
Sengupta further asked for assurance to Council that CUSA would not be pursuing legal action.
Odunayo said no assurance could be given at this time. “We have not taken any legal action yet, we’re still under review, and if at some point that is a possibility,” he said, CUSA Council would be informed.
He added that “CUSA… is not interested in lawsuits. We’re not going to pursue it. But at some point we must say something, and we’ve said something.”
Odunayo later said “If you’re looking for guarantees about when or whether we take action I can’t give you that.” Odunayo reiterated that Council would be informed of any steps taken, but did not specify whether Council would be informed before or after legal action is initiated.
At the meeting, CUSA VP Internal Sofia Dala said in response to a councillor’s question that the current CUSA executive made a unanimous decision to issue the threat.
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences councillor Adam Carroll said at the meeting that one of the individuals under threat, Jarrah Hodge, had linked to the article, rather than reproducing it on her page. He asked Odunayo whether other individuals including Carleton students who linked to the article could be facing similar threats.
“Linking and reposting are the same thing. You realize that, right?” replied Odunayo. He denied that others would be facing similar letters, asking “Are other students named in the letter? No… it’s fairly common sense.”
The Leveller is reproducing the Sept. 11 letter sent on behalf of Alexander Golovko and CUSA here.
This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 7, No. 1