The latest chapter in the ongoing legal saga between the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville and Justin Altmann left no clear winner.
While Justice Shaun Nakatsuru wrote that Altmann was in contempt of court for content from his talks at four town halls prior to the 2018 election, the judge said contextual factors led him to not make a finding of civil contempt.
“While the town has proven beyond a reasonable doubt Altmann is in contempt, Altmann has persuaded me that it is just that a finding not be made,” Nakatsuru said.
The exact information that Altmann said at the town halls that was in contravention of the court order can’t be revealed because it is under publication ban.
Nakatsuru wrote that while Altmann did not name names at the town halls, he disclosed personal information of current and former employees.
“More specifically, Mr. Altmann disclosed information about personal information about two individuals and information about their alleged activities and the town’s investigation into them,” Nakatsuru wrote. “This was information that the town for good reasons wished to treat confidential. Something Altmann was fully aware of. The potential disclosure of this confidential information was the reason the town sued Altmann.”
The judge said any member of the public could readily fathom who Altmann was speaking about at the town halls.
With that said Nakatsuru exercised his discretion not to make a finding of contempt for a variety of reasons, including the fact Altmann was engaged in an election exercising his freedom of expression and that he was acting on legal advice that was not correct.
Associate dean of Osgoode Hall Law School Trevor Farrow said a finding of contempt is generally seen as a last resort for the court and the judge is given a fair amount of discretion in these matters. The ruling has something both sides can point to.
“The town was vindicated in a sense in that the mayor was offside,” he said. “From the mayor’s perspective no significant punishment was meted out.”
Nakatsuru ruled that each side pay its own legal costs.
In September 2018, an Ontario Superior Court judge ordered Altmann and others to return confidential information to the town, including binders distributed at a garden party in 2017.
Altmann agreed to the order without admitting liability.
The town had issued a media release Oct. 12, 2018 stating it was seeking a declaration from the court that Altmann is in contempt of court for recent public speeches he made.
But while Altmann returned records, the town alleged the former mayor was giving public speeches about the very information he returned — confidential information about town employees.
In the fall, Altmann’s lawyer Mauro Marchioni said the town sent a cease and desist letter after the first town hall, which he said didn’t apply because Altmann wasn’t violating any court order.
The contempt case involving Altmann is just a small part of a larger legal battle.
The town filed a lawsuit against its then-mayor in June 2018 alleging Altmann gave out confidential information.
Altmann disclosed, discussed and distributed multiple copies of a 167-page binder, which included the allegedly confidential information, to unidentified members of the public on Aug. 26, 2017, according to the town.
Altmann’s statement of defence paints a much different picture of the matter stating that the information disclosed in the binder was not confidential, but information that had otherwise made its way to the public domain.
The town claims Altmann breached his duties of loyalty, fidelity and good faith owed to the town, his fiduciary duty owed to the town and his duty to keep all confidential information belonging to the town in strict confidence.
The town is seeking punitive, exemplary and aggravated damages as a result of “Altmann’s blatant breaches of duties owed to the town and wilful deliberate misuse of confidential information belonging to the town.”