Filmmaker Michelle Latimer sues CBC for 200K in libel damages

Documentarian asserts Indigeneity in court and takes action against journalists ‘to ensure they are appropriately punished.’

Michelle Latimer

Filmmaker Michelle Latimer has come under fire for claiming ties to a western Quebec First Nation. Photo: Michelle Latimer/Facebook

Weeks before she decided to publicly address questions about her Indigenous identity, filmmaker Michelle Latimer filed a statement of claim against the CBC and four of its journalists for defamation — following up on complaints contained in libel notices served on Jan. 27 and March 5.

The former director of the acclaimed but now cancelled Trickster series accuses the public broadcaster and reporters Angela Sterritt, Gillian Deacon, Jorge Barrera and Ka’nhehsí:io Deer of being “malicious, high-handed and arrogant” in their coverage of Latimer’s identity story.

The documentarian now seeks $200,000 in “punitive or exemplary damages” to ensure the CBC and its journalists “are appropriately punished for their conduct and deterred from such conduct in the future,” according to a statement of claim filed in Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

The document was issued on April 23 — three weeks before Latimer broke months of silence in a 5,000-word blog post followed by an exclusive interview with the Globe and Mail. Neither article disclosed that she had filed civil action.

The legal filing doubled-down on Latimer’s Indigenous identity claim, asserting that she “is and identifies as Algonquin Métis” and that the CBC coverage “created the false narrative that Ms. Latimer was an imposter who had gained advantage by claiming an Indigenous background that she did not have.”

When contacted for comment on May 25, spokesperson Chuck Thompson said in an email that the broadcaster hadn’t yet been served with any statement of claim and thus “cannot comment on something we haven’t received.”

A statement of claim must be served on defendants within six months of being issued, according to provincial legal rules. A libel notice must be served within six weeks of the alleged defamation.

On Dec. 17, 2020, Barrera and Deer reported that community members were scrutinizing Latimer’s identity after she claimed to be “from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg (Maniwaki), Quebec” in a National Film Board press release.

Latimer apologized for claiming community ties before verifying them. In the lawsuit, she said she only wanted to “draw an affiliation” with the community, not identify as a band member.

The lawsuit asserts the CBC investigation, which included an independent genealogical reconstruction, was published “in a tone of language intended to discredit and belittle Ms. Latimer” and violated her privacy.

“Ms. Latimer pleads that she was entitled to a measure of solitude as to the precise outline of her indigeneity,” her attorneys wrote. “The December 17th Article and Broadcast not only invaded Ms. Latimer’s privacy, but did so in a way which disparaged her family history and claim to indigeneity.”

Latimer afterward published the findings of her own genealogical research on the blog.

Latimer also takes issue with Sterritt over a Jan. 19 report about Tamara Bell, a Haida filmmaker pressing for new legislation penalizing those who falsely claim Indigenous identity for personal gain.

The lawsuit alleges Deacon hosted two radio broadcasts that discussed the identity story — one on Jan. 21 and the other Jan. 26 — which Latimer claims were both defamatory.

As a result of the reporting, the suit alleges Latimer “has suffered, and will in the future suffer, emotional damage and profound damage to her reputation” as well as “significant and irreparable damage to her career.”

The stories “have unleashed a torrent of misleading and abusive statements about Ms. Latimer on social media and elsewhere,” the lawyers alleged. “They have led to the erasure of Ms. Latimer as a cultural figure in Canada.”

Latimer claims the controversy left her with no other option but to resign from Trickster.

She also claims she had her Inconvenient Indian documentary withdrawn from film festivals; lost two film contracts; was asked to return her DOC Institute Vanguard Award; lost two opportunities to adapt projects into film; and had all submissions bearing her name at the Canadian Screen Awards disqualified as a result.

Latimer reiterated many of the libel suit’s allegations in her blog post, which criticized the CBC and attributed her downfall to cancel culture.

“I am an artist and activist, of non-status Algonquin, Métis and French Canadian heritage,” Latimer wrote. “I will not apologize for that.”

Latimer declined an interview request from APTN News through her lawyer.

The journalists named as defendants either did not reply to requests for comment or referred APTN back to Thompson.

All allegations are unproven and have not been tested in court.

Read the statement of claim: Michelle Latimer v. CBC et al.

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