Toronto Star

Tuesday, August 10, 1999

Jurisdiction could thwart Black's action

Civil court may not have say on peerage dispute

By Tim Harper
Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA - Jean Chrétien could argue Conrad Black is seeking to sue him in the wrong court, a move that, if successful, would force the media tycoon back to square one in his legal battle with the Prime Minister.

The jurisdictional issue is one of a host of options that legal sources suggest could be used by the Prime Minister as he defends himself in the $25,000 lawsuit launched by Black.

The owner of the National Post and many other newspapers is claiming ``embarrassment and inconvenience'' after Chrétien blocked his life appointment to the British House of Lords.

One legal question to be determined is whether Black should have filed his lawsuit in federal court, because civil court may not have the jurisdiction to hear a case against the government.

If Chrétien wins his bid to block a civil court from hearing the case, Black would have to at least launch his lawsuit again in the different venue if he wished to continue his action.

Sources close to the Prime Minister's Office said nothing has been ruled in or ruled out in the defence strategy. However, they would not discuss specifics.

The Prime Minister's Office confirmed yesterday, however, that Chrétien called Black while the Post publisher was in Austria on March 29 - a call that awoke him in the middle of the night.

But officials said they had no information to suggest the Prime Minister was particularly upset or irritated when he launched the call, an assertion made by Black's associate Peter Atkinson.

Atkinson said the Prime Minister's Office ignored his entreaties to wait on the call because his boss would be sleeping. He said Black later confirmed for him the call was made to complain about coverage of Chrétien in the Post.

Black is claiming that Chrétien's irritation with coverage of alleged conflicts of interest in his Shawinigan riding was behind his refusal to allow the peerage.

Chrétien has retained Ottawa civil lawyer David Scott to handle the case.

Scott is part of the legal team defending Chrétien and the government in the inquiry into police tactics at the Vancouver APEC summit in 1997.

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