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Daniel Veniez suing John Weston

Liberal candidate alleges "anonymous character assassination" by Weston campaign

The Liberal candidate in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country is taking his Conservative opponent to court over allegations John Weston's campaign has defamed his character.

Daniel Veniez, the Liberal candidate in the riding that includes Squamish and Whistler, filed a civil claim in the B.C. Supreme Court on April 26 against Conservative incumbent Weston and three others, alleging that the latter's campaign used "anonymous character assassination" against him through a video posted on Youtube.

The video in question, posted on April 17 by user "Dale5775," claims that while Veniez was president of New Skeena Forest Products in the northern B.C. town of Terrace, he took the company into bankruptcy at a time that employees had for years paid into the company's pension plan.

With ominous music playing in the background, the video states that those pensions were "ELIMINATED" when Veniez and partners took the company into bankruptcy.

Weston described the legal action as "a desperate measure in a moving political campaign."

He said his campaign did not provide supporters with materials to distribute at all candidates meetings on this issue.

The video was later posted on the "John Weston Nation" Facebook site, with an accompanying comment by the site administrator that, "I was not aware of these details about Dan Vanier's (sic) actions with Skeena a (corporation) that went into bankruptcy and forfeited its unprotected employee pensions (but not before he withdrew > $200K in personal wages himself.)"

The Facebook site is not officially associated with Weston's campaign.

Veniez has two separate claims: that he was libeled under section 8 of the Libel and Slander Act; and that the Weston campaign did this for the specific purpose of affecting the federal election, a violation of section 91 of the Canada Elections Act.

The claim states that the publication of the video on the "John Weston Nation" site constitutes a "publication by adoption" and that campaign volunteers distributed links to the video at all candidates' meetings in Sechelt and Gibsons on April 18.

In an interview on Tuesday, Veniez flatly denied the accusations being made against him in the video. He said if he'd taken money out of the Skeena employees' pension funds, he would have been prosecuted already.

"It legally is impossible to happen," he said. "I wouldn't be talking to you right now, I'd be in jail."

Veniez went on to explain how he acquired Skeena Cellulose with a partner in 2002.

The two bought it out of bankruptcy and tried to reshape the company's business model, changing its relations with the employees' union and "refashioning" the timber supply in an effort to build a sustainable business.

However, according to Veniez, external forces such as a crash in capital markets after 9/11, a softwood lumber tariff and a court decision on accommodating First Nations ultimately made it difficult to run a successful forestry company.

The two of them took the company to bankruptcy in September of 2004. A partner at Ernst and Young was appointed as a receiver and Donald Brenner, Chief Justice of the BC Supreme Court, oversaw the bankruptcy process in court.

"Any suggestion that my partner and I or me personally, a suggestion of interference, whatever, that we did anything even remotely contrary to the interests of the company, the interests of restarting that operation, was a lie," Veniez said. "Any notion that we somehow benefited from dipping into people's pension plans, is not only a lie, but consider who was managing and supervising the process, Brenner and Ernst and Young."

Veniez has also filed a complaint with Elections Canada about the matter.

The pulp mill on Watson Island (originally opened 1951) was once the major employer for Prince Rupert, but had been in financial difficulties for most of its history. There have been several attempts by many operators to keep the mill running, including the BC government, but all have been unsuccessful. It has been closed since 2001.

Sun Wave Forest Products, a division of China Paper Group, purchased the mill in 2006. The City of Prince Rupert offered property tax relief from the nearly $6.5 million in back taxes to Sun Wave, provided the mill was operational by the end of 2007.

However, the mill was never restarted and taxes never paid, so on Sept 29, 2009 the City of Prince Rupert took over the mill ownership, and ultimately hopes to find a buyer or operator for the mill.