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 Posted Thursday, June 10, 1999

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B'nai B'rith Canada: With malice aforethought

In 1984, while running for election to the Canadian Parliament as a Conservative Party candidate, Winnipeg schoolteacher Luba Fedorkiw discovered, to her utter amazement, that B'nai B'rith Canada, a major so-called Jewish "anti-defamation" organization, had circulated an internal memo which accused the candidate of "Jew-baiting."

This allegation was subsequently repeated in the Winnipeg Sun, and the resulting defamation cost her the election.

Luba Fedorkiw sued B'nai B'rith Canada for libel, with the result that she was eventually awarded $175,000 in actual damages and $225,000 in punitive damages against the organization.

The jury found that the charges of anti-Semitism were unfounded and malicious.

Winnipeg Free Press

Winnipeg, Canada, November 26, 1987

$400,000 awarded in damages

B'Nai B'rith guilty of libel, jury finds

by David Roberts


IN ONE of the largest defamation awards in Canadian history, a Winnipeg jury has awarded $400,000 in damages to former Tory candidate Luba Fedorkiw, saying she was maliciously libeled by a Jewish human rights group.

The six-member Court of Queen's Bench civil jury deliberated for four hours yesterday, finding the B'nai B'rith acted with malice when word of an internal probe into anti-Semitic remarks attributed to Fedorkiw was leaked to the press.

"I feel my name is cleared in Winnipeg, within the PC Party, and throughout Canada," a jubilant Fedorkiw said after the verdict.

"I feel I have been vindicated. It's time to go on in my career as a teacher and to move on in my personal life."

She said she planned to return to her Grade 10, 11 and 12 classes at Maples Collegiate today.

Fedorkiw's lawyer, Norm Cuddy, said he believed the award is the largest in Canadian history.

Fedorkiw had been seeking about $120,000 in damages over four years--the difference between her teacher's salary and what she would have earned as a Member of Parliament if elected.

Fedorkiw claimed she lost a chance to win the Winnipeg North seat in the 1984 federal election--and had her reputation smeared--when it became public the B'nai B'rith League for Human Rights was looking into allegations that she had made anti-Semitic comments.

Unfounded The league's former chairman, Liberal lawyer Israel Ludwig, said in a July 10, 1984, Winnipeg Sun story that allegations about Fedorkiw's alleged anti-Semitism were unfounded.

Fedorkiw also denied the allegations.

Ludwig said only that he was disappointed by yesterday's verdict and expects to appeal.

Lyle Smordin, current chairman of the League for Human Rights, said he was stunned by the verdict and the amount of damages awarded against the group.

"But this decision will do nothing to deter nor inhibit the League for Human Rights from continuing from doing what we have done in the past in our work for human rights," Smordin added.

In its verdict, the four-woman, two-man jury found the B'nai B'rith maliciously responsible for writing and circulating minutes of an internal May, 1984, meeting. Those minutes alleged Fedorkiw was engaged in "Jew-baiting" on the months leading up to the 1984 election.

During the trial, the jury considered evidence that Fedorkiw--in a battle with Olga Fuga for the Conservative nod in Winnipeg North--had allegedly said "a vote for Olga Fuga is a vote for the Jews."

The "Jew-baiting" allegation was later repeated in a newspaper headline, for which the league was also held responsible.

Cuddy termed the allegations against Fedorkiw "a nasty little rumor" that trial witnesses had said they feared might make the B'nai B'rith look like the political instrument of the Liberal Party in Manitoba.

Ludwig was a Liberal, the jury was told, as was B'nai B'rith member and lawyer David Matas, who brought the Fedorkiw complaint to Ludwig's attention.

The jury's foreman, economist Darryl Miller, said the panel found malicious intent against the B'nai B'rith and awarded Fedorkiw $175,000 in general damages for her tarnished reputation.

It then added $225,000 in punitive damages.

Unlike a criminal trial where a verdict must be unanimous, a civil jury can make a finding when five of the six agree. Miller said the jury had such a consensus.

"They put a sign on their lawn," Cuddy said of the verdict, referring to testimony by Orthodox Jew Rocky Kravetsky that he had allowed a Fedorkiw election sign on his lawn because he didn't believe the allegations against her.

The trial judge, Mr. Justice Daniel Kennedy, also assessed court costs against the defendants.

The jury assessed nominal damages of $1 against Ludwig.

Cuddy refused to explain why the Winnipeg Sun was not party to the legal action since it published the headline and the story which led to the lawsuit. The Sun was served with a notice of intent to sue at the outset of the proceedings.

Sun publisher Al Davies refused immediate comment, except to say the newspaper isn't worried about being sued.

In delivering its verdict, the jury was asked by Kennedy to answer the following four questions:

  • Did Ludwig act maliciously in bringing a complaint against Fedorkiw to the B'nai B'rith? The jury's verdict was no.
  • Did the League for Human Rights of the B'nai B'rith failed to revise the "Jew-baiting" wording of their minutes and circulate those minutes with malicious intent? The jury's verdict was yes.
  • Were Ludwig's remarks in the Sun news story defamatory? The jury's verdict was again yes.
  • Were Ludwig or the B'nai B'rith responsible for the defamatory Sun headline, "Jew-baiting charge"?

The jury decided they were....

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