A story in the Toronto Sun this evening claims that NDP leader Jack Layton was found naked in a suspected bawdy house in 1996. (Note the word ‘suspected’ used throughout the story. I’ve highlighted it so you can’t miss it):
“The officer’s notebook indicates he asked the suspected john: ‘Did you receive any sexual services?’
“He replied: ‘No sir, I was just getting a shiatsu.’
“The cop: ‘Why did you have all your clothes off?’
“The suspected john: No answer.
“The cop: ‘Are you aware that there were sex acts being done here?’
The suspected john: ‘No sir.’
“The former officer said Layton, seemed quiet and mellow and denied that he knew it was a suspected bawdy house.”
This story implies that Layton was let off easy, but the fact is that no charges were ever laid against anyone. The ‘suspected’ bawdy house was never proven to be one. Was it a bawdy house or not? Who knows?
Layton had a massage in Chinatown. If it had been anything more than that, one would expect that the story would have circulated long ago instead of fourteen years and eight elections later, on the eve of the election. (The story implies that it was in fact, well known within certain circles. If so, it must have been well-known in some other country because it certainly wasn’t this one.)
You’d also expect that Layton would have been charged or sent to John School, not home on his bicycle. I’m an old criminal lawyer, and I’m not buying it. But that’s why smears work: there are people who will presume guilt based on allegations.
This kind of story is the worse kind of smear, I think, because it’s anonymized. The Sun says it copied police notes, presented by an unnamed retired police officer. The location isn’t named, or the owner of the establishment, only Jack Layton. Hearsay and innuendo are presented as fact. Layton is described as a ‘suspected’ john, even though he immediately denied any knowledge of the premises being used for anything other than massages and even though no sexual acts were observed by the police. Instead, his avowals of innocence (and his silence, which was conveniently noted, although without any reference as to how long it was: minutes? a second? a nano-second?) are presented as if we should infer guilt.
(Or rather, ‘suspect’ guilt. Use of that word ‘suspected’ will no doubt be the Sun‘s defence in the defamation suit that will follow.)
Layton’s wife, Olivia Chow, has released a statement saying she knew all about this when it happened. Layton told her about his appointment, went for a massage; the police turned up, he rode his bike back home and told her what happened. She points out that, at the time, the police told her husband he’d done nothing wrong.
Layton’s lawyers, having wind of the pending story, contacted the paper to point out that the article is malicious, libellous and will attract substantial damages. I guess the Sun has never heard of the Ontario case involving Casey Hill v. Church of Scientology (a defamation case which made then prosecutor Casy Hill a millionaire) because they ran it anyway.
If I were Layton, I’d have my lawyers issue a Notice of Action for libel as quickly as they can churn one out. Suspicion is a wonderful thing, except in defamation suits. If you run this kind of story about someone with Layton’s national profile and put it on-line, you need better evidence than this kind of nonsense from an unidentified cop. You might at least want to investigate the motives of a policeman, who after his retirement, not only kept his fourteen year old notes about a non-crime (which are, by the way, supposed to be kept confidential except for where disclosure to the Crown or defence is required, or produced in court) but turned them over to the media.
Particularly when, given its timing, it looks like this story was released for one reason and one reason only — to knock Layton’s campaign off its stride.