A former London police officer and city hall staffer has lost his lawsuit against several domestic violence and women’s rights activists, with a judge ruling that Marcel Marcellin’s legal action was vindictive, vengeful, and had a “scorched earth” quality.
“The public has a very strong interest in protecting the victims of intimate partner violence. Victims, and their advocates, need to be able to recount their stories without undue fear of reprisal,” Superior Court Justice Spencer Nicholson wrote in his decision.
Marcellin, a former cop who was in charge of a city project to keep women and girls safe, wanted $4-million in damages, alleging that Megan Walker, the former head of the London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC) and Kate Wiggins, former head of Anova, which works with survivors of gender-based violence, engaged in a smear campaign against him while he was in a custody battle with his ex-wife.
Marcellins alleged that campaign led to criminal charges laid against him and his eventual firing from the City of London. His lawyer says he plans to appeal the lawsuit’s dismissal.
“I conclude that Mr. Marcelin has brought this action primarily for the purpose of silencing the moving parties,” Nicholson wrote in his decision. “Allowing such vindictive actions to continue stifles victims and impedes the critically important work of organizations such as LAWC and Anova.”
But Nicholson didn’t let Walker and Wiggins entirely off the hook, saying they inappropriately tried to interfere in Marcellin’s custody law dispute while advocating for his former wife. “They went beyond providing support to (the ex-wife),” Nicholson wrote.”
But the case sets an important precedent for women’s groups and survivors of intimate partner violence, said lawyer Sean Miller, who represented LAWC and Walker at the proceedings.
“Lawsuits brought to intimidate and silence victims of abuse and their supporters will face scrutiny by the courts. Vindictive actions will not be permitted,” Miller said. The case “is a win for victims of abuse and their advocates.”
Anti-SLAPP motion won
Nicholson was ruling on a motion brought forward by the women’s groups that argued Marcellin’s legal action was a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP). Those kinds of lawsuits are filed to sensor critics by burdening them with legal challenges and associated costs until they abandon their claims.
By winning the anti-SLAPP motion, the case against the women’s groups cannot continue.
Philip Millar, Marcellin’s lawyer, said his client is disappointed with the loss and that he intends to appeal.
“This is a new area of law that has not received appellate scrutinize yet and needs to be analyzed at the higher courts as there are huge issues at play,” Millar told CBC News.
“His honour’s decision reads favourable to my client all the way to the end where he says you can defame someone when there is a public interest to protect future people’s ability to raise domestic violence claims. I am not sure that reasoning will survive appeal and we will move forward accordingly,” Millar said.
In fact, Nicholson said he doesn’t approve of Wiggins and Walker going to Marcellin’s supervisor to tell him that Marcellin had been accused of domestic violence. But the judge notes that Marcellin’s lawsuit, which also named the London Police and the Woodstock Police, both chiefs of police, and several officers, had a “scorched earth nature” and should be considered “vengeful intensification” by Marcellin in an ongoing family law dispute.
The judge did not make any findings about the truth of Marcellin’s ex-wife’s allegations of domestic violence.
Marcellin was charged with 2018 with two counts of assault dating back to the mid-1990s. The charges were withdrawn in 2019 but Marcellin was given some conditions by the court, called a peace bond.