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TRREB files lawsuit against realtors over ORWP opposition

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The Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) has launched a case against two Ontario realtors, and two additional (unknown) defendants.

Court documents provided to REM state that the defendants — Sandra Maher and Penny Dutkowski, who are not TRREB members, along with two unknown individuals — used TRREB’s confidential or proprietary information to communicate with TRREB members. This includes via websites like nomandatoryorwp.ca and change.org/p/say-no-to-mandatory-realtor-benefits-orwp.

 

TRREB’s claim

 

TRREB’s Statement of Claim says, “All of the Defendants used TRREB content without authorization, including links to TRREB’s proprietary and confidential material.”

The claim goes into specifics of this, including that defendants “opposed ORWP and engaged in efforts to stop the implementation of ORWP applying to all Ontario realtors. The Defendants, and others, created a Meta Facebook page called “OROMOO” … stated to be an acronym for: Ontario Realtors Opposed to Mandatory OREA ORWP.

However, rather than the Meta Facebook page being directed at OREA, it was directed at TRREB, its officers, directors, members and employees. The OROMOO Meta Facebook page became a forum for libelous, slanderous and defamatory posts about TRREB, its officers, directors, employees and suppliers.”

Among other things, TRREB is claiming “$1 million for civil conspiracy, wrongful interference with economic relations, tortious interference and wrongful interference with contractual relations,” and, “In relation to any Defendants who are former TRREB members, damages in the amount of $1 million for breach of contract, and breaches of their membership obligations.”

About the case, John DiMichele, TRREB CEO, says, “Out of respect for the legal process, we will not be commenting considering that the matter is before the courts.”

 

Dutkowski and Maher’s defense

 

Dutkowski and Maher’s Statement of Defence states they “deny each and every allegation in the Statement of Claim, unless expressly admitted herein, and put the Plaintiff to the strict proof thereof.”

It explains that TRREB is a trade association operating on democratic principles that represents more than 70,000 real estate agents and brokers practicing in the GTA and that it’s also a constituent board of OREA, a professional association that represents real estate brokers and salespeople across Ontario.

“OREA is also a democratic institution that represents the interests of its members … This lawsuit is about that democratic process. TRREB takes issue with the fact that the Defendants sought to influence OREA policy in a manner that the TRREB Board of Directors did not like.

Specifically, the Defendants Penny Dutkowski and Sandra Maher – two long-time realtors and senior members of the profession – opposed the introduction of a mandatory health benefits plan that they felt would harm them and other more senior members of the profession (and in particular senior citizens).

TRREB now brings this lawsuit to silence dissent and to intimidate the Defendants and other realtors in Ontario. In reality, this claim is a political dispute disguised as a tort claim and bears all the hallmarks of strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP). It should be summarily dismissed.”

 

Statement from defendants’ lawyers

 

Dutkowski and Maher are being represented by lawyers Robert Stellick and Simon Bieber of Adair Goldblatt Bieber LLP in Toronto. They made the following statement on behalf of their clients:

“As the Statement of Claim makes clear, our clients have been sued by TRREB for their efforts to overturn the OWRP. The specific claims being made against them are set out in the Statement of Claim.

As the Statement of Defence makes clear, it is our view that this lawsuit has no merit and has been brought to silence and intimidate our clients and other realtors in Ontario. We intend to bring an ‘anti-SLAPP’ motion to seek to have the claim summarily dismissed.”

 

What is a SLAPP suit?

 

A SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) is defined by the Toronto Metropolitan University’s Centre for Free Expression as follows:

“SLAPPs are lawsuits brought by individuals, corporations or others to intimidate and silence critics by forcing them into legal battles that would be extremely costly and time-consuming to fight. The goal was not to obtain justice; it was to exhaust, defeat and intimidate their critics into being silent.

A typical example is publishers, newspapers or media outlets being sued to stop publications which expose corporate or political wrongdoing. Similar tactics are used to mute the voices of community activists and researchers who are exposing harms from development projects or toxic chemicals or corporate malpractice.”

 


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