EDMONTON (CUP) — A University of Alberta student interrupted a meeting of the student union council Tuesday night to serve the union’s president with a $170,000 defamation lawsuit.
Paul Conquest, a fourth-year arts student, is suing the university’s student union and its president Chris Samuel for allegedly defaming him in a newspaper advertisement last spring.
Samuel took out a half-page ad in the April 5, 2001 issue of the Gateway, the university’s student newspaper, in response to a letter to the editor Conquest had published about a student union award-committee selection in the previous issue of the newspaper. The ad stated that Conquest’s letter was “poorly researched” and made other statements that Conquest says are defamatory and have adversely affected his professional career. Conquest says that despite numerous efforts, no substantial apology has been presented for the comments Samuel made in the ad.
“I think [Samuel] had every opportunity to rebut the opinion,” Conquest said. “Did he have the right to attack someone in order to make the opinion? No.”
Conquest’s letter alleged the committees selecting student union scholarship recipients appeared unfair. His letter called for the “refund of all monetary awards granted by the [student union] to current and former [student union] executive and councillors.”
In his advertised response, Samuel wrote that Conquest’s letter was grossly inaccurate, and charged that Conquest “incorrectly stated the composition of this committee, which proves that he is uninformed and thus unqualified to make any statements about the awards selection process.”
Conquest said he responded to Samuel’s ad with disbelief.
“On one hand I was outraged because I took it as an attack. It wasn’t focused on the issue; it was focused on the person and I felt like he was running me down in order to support his issue.”
Samuel would not comment on the lawsuit, citing legal concerns.
Conquest said that prior to taking legal action, he hired a lawyer to write numerous letters to the student union, suggesting ways for possible amends.
“What I asked for was an apology that gives the same emphasis and space as the attack,” Conquest said. “I wanted two quarter-page ads [in the Gateway] so that they would have a better chance to catch all the people who might have read the attack. And I wanted it to be put in right at the beginning of the year, to inform students right away.”
Conquest said the student union agreed to his request in a letter but did not follow through with the ads at the beginning of the year. Subsequent correspondence failed to garner a response.
Conquest said he named the union, and not just Samuel, in the suit because the ad gave the impression Samuel was speaking to students on behalf on the entire council. “The advertisement was placed under the union’s logo and artwork and was undoubtedly paid for by the students’ union. It become an official act of the students’ union,” said Conquest.
He said his central motive for the lawsuit is to establish his credibility among professors and peers at the university.
“The most important thing is that I want to go into graduate school. Going to graduate school, I need references from the academic community. Everybody that I potentially ask for a reference may have seen this, so I can’t get an unbiased reference anymore.”