Qualicum Beach Mayor Teunis Westbroek has settled a civil defamation claim against him out of court. The settlement involves both a public apology and payment for damages and legal fees.
The claim was filed April 19, 2021 in B.C. Supreme Court on behalf of Ken Schley, John Briuolo and Kelland Food Holdings Ltd. and sought damages from slander.
Defamation is characterized as a statement or statements that damage a third party’s reputation. Defamation includes both written statements (libel) and spoken statements (slander).
The original claim stated that Schley and Briuolo control Kelland Foods Holdings Ltd., a development company that previously owned the Qualicum Foods grocery store. The store was destroyed in a fire in 2002.
Their claim involved statements Westbroek made during an in-camera meeting of council as well as a subsequent open meeting of council regarding the complainants, as well as during another informal meeting with two other member of council in a public restaurant where his comments were apparently overheard by other people.
“It’s now been settled,” said Bryan Baynham of Harper Grey LLP, who represented Schley, Briuolo and Kelland Foods Holdings Ltd.
The matter was set for court for Feb. 22, Baynham said, but because Westbroek agreed to a settlement, there won’t be a court appearance.
“The mayor has agreed to issue a public apology. It sets out in detail the apology he’s making,” Baynham said.
In the statement, Westbroek apologizes “for defamatory statements I made to members of the Council and members of the senior staff of the Town of Qualicum in late 2020 and early 2021” regarding Schley and Briuolo and a business they formerly owned, Qualicum Foods.
“It was wrong of me to have made statements to this effect and I am remorseful for my actions.”
Westbroek noted he did not apologize for the comments until he was cross-examined by the complainants’ lawyer on Oct. 18, 2022 even though he “had ample opportunity.”
At the time he made the defamatory statements Westbroek was a council member for the Town of Qualicum Beach. He was elected as mayor in October 2022 — a seat he previously held from 1999 to 2018.
In addition to the printed apology Westbroek must pay $100,000 in damages to the complainants and a further $30,000 toward legal fees and disbursement.
— With files from PQB staff