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Controversy continues: Richmond Hill councillor launches lawsuit, council supports new investigation

Thornhill musician planned media blitz with help of local politicians to smear her: Karen Cilevitz

July 5, 2018
Kim Zarzour

Richmond Hill councillor Karen Cilevitz has launched a $500,000 libel lawsuit against Thornhill musician Matt (Groopie) Bergman

The action follows a months-long campaign on social media by Bergman who says Cilevitz is guilty of “threatening, intimidating and harassing.”

The dispute started in January when the Ward 5 councillor attempted to stop Bergman and Richmond Hill resident Steffi Goodfield from calling their open mic events the "Ward 5 Jam."

Cilevitz said she did not want “Ward 5” associated with Bergman, who she said had in the past subjected her and her partner, Derek Christie, to “abusive verbal behaviour” on Facebook.

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After her requests to discuss the name change were ignored, Cilevitz left an angry message on Goodfield’s voice mail -- one that she said she now regrets and for which she has apologized.

That voice mail has since been widely circulated on social and news media.

In her statement of claim, Cilevitz’s legal team says Bergman carried out a plan to discredit and smear Cilevitz through various media attacks, saying “this is gonna get ugly.”

Bergman had a plan to “bring down [Cilevitz] and Christie with the assistance of local politicians who planned to orchestrate a media blitz,” the statement said.

In the meantime, a majority of councillors voted Tuesday in favour of a motion, presented by Ward 2 Coun. Tom Muench, to reopen the investigation into Cilevitz’s voice mail. A final vote is set for July 9.

A complaint regarding the voice mail had been submitted earlier to the town’s integrity commissioner, Nigel Bellchamber, but it was dismissed.

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Muench said he believes the integrity commissioner made an error and asked council to refer the matter to a Toronto integrity commissioner or another qualified party.

“We would like to have an independent discussion by an independent party away from this organization away from the emotion and any interference,” Muench said. “I am not directly involved. Having said that ... I take the response for the duty that I hold dear as an elected individual representing the community, in this case Richmond Hill.”

In the same integrity commissioner report released in May that dismissed the voice mail complaint, and other complaints, as invalid, Bellchamber found Muench guilty of breaching the town’s code of conduct and asked him to apologize to Cilevitz for a disrespectful and inappropriate confrontation.

Muench’s motion calls for council to engage immediately to address gaps in the code of conduct and the respect in the workplace policy.

It also called for the complaint regarding Cilevitz’s action in regards to Goodfield and Open Mic be referred for a report and recommendation to the town’s newly-hired integrity commissioner.

Bellchamber had been appointed to be the town’s integrity commissioner on an interim basis. In February, council approved the recruitment of a new permanent integrity commissioner. Deborah Anschell has since been selected to fill the role.

Bergman and Niagara Falls resident Cyndi VanBrussel had appeared before council last month to request a new investigation. Goodfield herself appeared for the first time this week, saying it was physically and emotionally difficult to appear in person as she is undergoing medical treatment. She has been diagnosed with cancer.

She said Cilevitz’s lawsuit against Bergman is seeking an outrageous amount in damages and appears to be an attempt to silence criticism.

Cilevitz did not apologize in person, she said, but rather on Facebook, and she urged council to “further investigate the wrongdoings that have affected so many in our community … Immediate action is required by this council to avoid further fracturing of our community.”

The only member of council to vote against a new investigation (Ward 4 Coun. David West was absent) was regional Coun. Brenda Hogg, who argued that the original complainants have the option, if they remain dissatisfied with the integrity commissioner’s decision, of referring the matter to an ombudsman -- which they appear to have done.

Council is supposed to remain at arm’s length from the process, she added.

“If we don’t like the judge, we don’t go choose a new one. I think we’re on really thin legal ground here,” Hogg said. “It was submitted; it was dealt with … Now we’re questioning the integrity of the integrity commissioner.”