Questions Soma Ray-Ellis won’t answer

Even though she stumbled over her words and simply doesn’t seem very articulate, and even though she has a citation history that is thin at best, Mathieu Chantelois’ attorney Soma Ray-Ellis still felt authorized to make extraordinary claims – and issue threats – in a TV interview.

So I thought I’d ask her a few fact-checking questions (excerpted here; links added). She did not respond.

  1. Mr. Chantelois increased the budget, uh, significantly, by millions of dollars.

    Well, no, I doubt he did. The 2016 annual report has not been released, but 2015 earnings were down over 2014’s – $3,104,906 vs. $5,311,366. (By “budget,” I assume you mean “earnings.” [See 2015 annual report (PDF).]

    Even increasing the budget by two “millions of dollars” wouldn’t have lifted Pride Toronto back to 2014 levels. You’d have to provide audited financial statements to back up your claim. As such statements likely do not exist, that’s a claim you cannot back up.

  2. And by the next day, he realized he was not gonna be in a position to satisfy all of those people. And it was better for him not to get into the middle of the storm and s— you, know, change the issues that need to be dealt with, which is about helping marginalized people, dealing with issues that communities feel they’re not being addressed, and instead of moving that into something that was going to be about him. Because i-in some ways he was going to be scapegoated no matter what, which is what has happened amongst certain people in terms of what – i-in terms of the fallout.

    • Isn’t it the job of an executive director to actually handle difficult issues instead of simply quitting?
    • Aren’t potentially all issues at Pride Toronto difficult?
    • Was Chantelois unable to reflect on the experience of his two predecessors and reasonably assume shit would hit the fan at some point in the future?
    • Given that Chantelois was the executive director and personally signed a pledge to meet BLM’s demands, in what way is it unexpected that “something… was going to be about him”?
  3. Well, unfortunately, after he resigned, some people feel that they can take to social media or the larger media itself and say things that are defamatory.

    Citation needed.

  4. And I think that’s the real issue here, that when we have people who give their lives and put themselves in leadership positions, yes, they’re saying – you know, they may say “I can’t do everything all of you want me to do. Let me walk away.” And when you don’t let them walk away…. We want them to try to move society along. We want them to push agendas that make society more inclusive. And in doing so, if you don’t satisfy everybody, you should be allowed to walk away. People should not be allowed to go to social media and say whatever they want.

    So you are articulating a principle that does not exist in law – when an executive resigns under a cloud, that executive’s lawyer gets to determine what the rest of the world can say about him. Correct?

    you do not get a free pass. You cannot say whatever the hell you want.

    Again, citation needed about allegedly defamatory comments.

  5. And just because there are allegations it does not mean it’s true. There’s no finding against him.

    And finally we come to the real issue. If you’re referring to the seemingly credible and apparently well-founded allegations of abuse by staff, those are as follows:

    Over the last eighteen months, the staff of Pride Toronto have regularly experienced intimidation. verbal abuse, manipulation, and deceit, which we have come to accept as core elements of Mathieu’s personality and character.

    We have been subject to racist, sexist, and transphobic comments, sexual harassment, and personal attacks. He has hired his friends without conducting interviews, lied to the media, the community, volunteers and the staff, and made us feel unsafe about disagreeing with him on anything. He has made derogatory comments about staff to other staff members, including comments about firing staff once the festival was over, and used staff against each other to protect himself. In multiple situations, staff have been concerned with substance issues and been exposed to controlled substances that he has physically left in the office….

    He has intentionally kept us at arms’ length from you as the board, leaving us to feel unsupported, vulnerable and unprotected. For many months, we didn’t feel safe even to talk to each other. He has created an office environment that is manipulative, divisive, and ultimately toxic.

    [CP24 interviewer Stephen] LeDrew isn’t a journalist, hence couldn’t manage to ask you about the one and only live issue relating to Chantelois and employment law, namely these allegations.

    At any rate, you state – for what it’s worth, accurately – that there has been “no finding against him.” That’s because your client flew the coop before an investigation could be completed. (Board cochairs: “Immediately following receipt of the [staff complaint] letter, the Board retained the services of a law firm that specializes in workplace investigations to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the letter’s allegations. At the commencement of the investigation, a copy of the letter was shared with the Executive Director. Rather than complete the investigation, Mathieu Chantelois chose to submit his resignation.”)

    On that topic, your client apparently lied to the press. (Please comment.)

    Of course Chantelois was aware of the letter and the allegations.

    If Pride Toronto chooses to resume that investigation, will your client cooperate to the fullest extent?

  6. He had to choose between himself or the very cause that he’s dedicated his life to…. Mr. Chantelois is very hurt that, you know, he’s worked 20 years in this industry. These are – this is not just a job. This is his life.

    No, in fact Chantelois’ résumé [PDF], and the easily attestable facts, show that he’s spent most of the last 20 years working for Cineplex Media. If working for Gay Pride were really Chantelois’ “life,” he wouldn’t have quit.

  7. But I think what’s important for people to understand is that you cannot hide behind social media, that we can get, you know, people’s names and addresses. And-and if you’re gonna be defamatory, then we can sue. And so it’s-it’s not OK to just malign people after the fact.

    I looked up your citations in WestLaw and on CanLII and – apart from there being very few of them, none important – I note that you have no citations in defamation law.

    As you probably don’t know, an aggrieved party cannot simply “sue” for defamation. The aggrieved party must demand an apology and retraction, and that demand has to be properly served within time limits. For “social media,” you would indeed have to somehow conclusively identify the speaker and serve a demand to one and the same person in each case. That’s a high bar to meet right there. I seriously doubt you could secure authorizations for substituted service from a judge, though you could get lucky there if all respondents had credible E-mail addresses, say.

    At that point, again since we’re talking about “social media,” the apology and retraction you could extract would be limited to a Facebook post or a “tweet.” Small potatoes all around.

    If the alleged defamer refused to provide an apology and retraction, you would indeed have to sue him or her. Chantelois doesn’t have that kind of money, and, more importantly, neither do the respondents. Even if you got a judgement (based on my years of reading defamation cases, it would be in the low five figures and could be as small as a buck), you would have no realistic means of collection.

    But much more interesting would be the scenario in which the alleged defamers fought the case tooth and nail. Truth is an absolute defence. (And, despite what you erroneously implied on CP24, fair comment is a qualified defence.) The respondent’s lawyers would surely put Chantelois and potentially numerous witnesses on the stand and would, in my estimation, prove that the statements were at least fair comment. I suspect every allegation of substance would be ruled to be true by a judge.

    Do you think Salah Bachir would still be politically capable of employing Mathieu Chantelois at that point? Nobody else would.

Elided here is a question about Chantelois’ time at TFO, and why he left that tiny broadcaster. The question is not elided because it is defamatory but because I am saving it up. Interested parties may ask for details.