Executives of a Langley traffic control company have been ordered to pay $1.5 million in a defamation case that began with rivalry over a major contract.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Andrew P. A. Mayer ruled that Valley Traffic Systems, its former owner Phil Jackman, former VTS vice-president Trevor Paine, and their former business partner Remon Hanna, were all liable for a campaign of defamation carried out against rival traffic control firm Ansan Group and its head, Raoul Malak in 2012 and 2013.
The defamation began with a rivalry and falling out between Hanna and Malak.
Hanna had run Advanced Traffic Solutions, which had worked as a subcontractor for the Ansan Group.
But near the end of 2010, Hanna and Malak had a falling out.
Hanna’s Advanced Traffic began working together with Valley Traffic Systems, a Langley-based firm and one of the largest traffic control companies in the province. Hanna, who was given business cards identifying him as VTS’s “senior contract manager” and worked out of their offices, was working with VTS on a bid for a major contract with BC Hydro.
That would put them in direct competition with Ansan Group.
In mid-2012, an article appeared on multiple websites under titles such as “Raoul Malak Uncovered” and “Ansan Traffic Group Exposed,” making false allegations that Malak was involved in criminal activity and in kickback schemes.
The judge in an earlier phase of the lengthy court proceedings described the article as a “hit piece.”
Over the course of the next several months, senior executives with VTS sent the links to the article to numerous people, including officials at Langley City and Township and the city of Maple Ridge and Telus.
In late August, BC Hydro announced it was seeking bidders for a contract to provide province-wide traffic control services, with the winning company providing direct services for the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, and through sub-contractors for the rest of B.C.
Both Ansan and VTS were bidding for the contract.
In September 2012, an email signed “Anonymous” was sent to then-B.C. premier Christy Clark and then-minister of energy Rich Coleman, who was the minister responsible for BC Hydro.
Just after bidding closed for the BC Hydro contract, links to the article were sent to BC Hydro employees.
Meanwhile, Malak and employees at Ansan had become aware of the article in late June, and were seeking court injunctions to have it taken down. The article kept popping up on new sites, and a defamatory poem about Malak also appeared as a slide show on YouTube.
Ansan Group had to complain to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and successfully sought to take over 12 internet domains where the scurrilous article had been posted.
After that ruling took effect in February, 2013, Hanna sent an email to Jackman and Paine, with the WIPO ruling attached, reading “Guess need new ones! lol”.
VTS won the BC Hydro bid, after which no new defamatory websites appeared.
Over the next several years, VTS paid Hanna $2.4 million, which Malak alleged was payment for the campaign of defamation.
In the most recent trial, held to determine damages, and whether the various defendants were jointly liable, Jackman and Paine argued that Hanna was acting on his own in the defamation campaign.
Justice Mayer found that, on a balance of probabilities, Hanna, Jackman, and Paine “agreed to, and did, participate in the common design of carrying out a campaign of defamation against Mr. Malak and the Ansan Group.”
He also found that a flurry of emails Jackman sent, containing links to the anti-Malak websites, were part of the campaign.
The judge also found Valley Traffic Systems itself liable as a company.
Mayer rules that VTS, Jackman, Paine, and Hanna were all jointly liable, and awarded Malak $500,000 in general damages and $200,000 in aggravated damages, the Ansan Group $300,000 in general damages, and the collective group of plaintiffs, including Malak, Ansan, and several subsidiary traffic companies, punitive damages of another $500,000, for a total of $1.5 million.
Jackman told the Langley Advance Times he plans to appeal the decision.
“My clients are disappointed with the results,” said lawyer Tim Delaney, who represented Jackman, Paine, and VTS. “They never had anything to do with this defamatory material.”
Neither Valley Traffic Systems nor Ansan still exists as an independent company.
In 2020, Ansan was bought by Universal Group, and three months later, the same firm acquired Valley Traffic Systems. The Langley Advance Times reached out to Universal Group, but the firm had no comment on the judgment.
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