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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

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Defamation suit against blogger dismissed

Michael Rosenberg

MONTREAL — Quebec Superior Court has dismissed a defamation lawsuit by Chassidic community leaders against a non-Jewish blogger.

In a 108-page ruling handed down Dec. 4, Judge Claude Dallaire rejected the demand for $375,000 from Pierre Lacerte by Michael Rosenberg, president of Rosdev Construction, his son Martin Rosenberg and Alex Werzberger, head of the Coalition of Chassidic Organizations of Outremont.

The lawsuit, which also cited harassment and breach of privacy, brought to a head a decade-long feud between the elder Rosenberg and Lacerte. Since 2007, he has managed the website Accommodements Outremont, through which he chronicles alleged municipal infractions by members of the chassidic communities in that borough.

The case was heard over several days last January. Prominent civil rights lawyer Julius Grey represented the plaintiffs.

Werzberger told The CJN Dec. 9 that he and the Rosenbergs had not decided whether to appeal, and he would be meeting later in the week with them.

He had also not yet read the judgment and could not comment on its particulars.

“It’s not what I expected, but then you never know when you go to court,” he said.

The elder Rosenberg charged that Lacerte is motivated by anti-Semitism, which Lacerte denies, saying he just wants the bylaws applied equally to everyone and is exercising his freedom of speech.

What really bothered the Rosenbergs, who are leaders of the Bobover congregation on Hutchison Street, was Lacerte’s photographing for the past 10 years of comings and goings at the synagogue to back up his claim that the community was violating parking, building, noise and other regulations.

Lacerte, a former journalist, lives across the street.

The trio wanted 95 of the 314 texts on the blog removed.

They felt the blog was ridiculing Chassidim in general and themselves in particular.

Dallaire concluded that the content on the blog does not constitute defamation or harassment, nor is it an infringement of the plaintiffs’ fundamental rights.

She found no evidence of racially motivated discrimination.

“Unfortunately for them, the Rosenbergs were photographed on many occasions and for long periods parked as described by the defendant,” she wrote.

She noted that Martin Rosenberg acknowledged during his testimony that he had received several tickets, and said that it’s not illegal to double-park if the motorist pays the fine.

As Lacerte’s intention was to denounce what he considered laxness on the part of municipal authorities in applying the law, “the defendant had a legitimate interest in expressing what were the parking habits of the Rosenbergs,” Dallaire ruled.

Another of Lacerte’s complaints, about buses used by the community, also had grounds because they were circulating on residential streets without a permit, she wrote.

Dallaire pointed out that Michael Rosenberg, who sits on a city committee, and Werzberger, who acts as a spokesperson for the chassidic communities, are public personalities and therefore subject to “comment, remarks, irony, humour and stylistic devices that are of a kind protected by freedom of expression.”

Dallaire also rejected Lacerte’s counter-suit for $725,000 against the three chassidic leaders. Lacerte alleged the trio’s intervention was a nuisance suit intended to silence him.

He also claimed that the accusation of anti-Semitism had negatively affected his reputation and employment opportunities.

While there’s “no doubt” that the plaintiffs wished to “muzzle” Lacerte, Dallaire found their petition was not abusive.

Werzberger said it appears Lacerte is starting to “soften up” in his campaign against the chassidim since the matter went to court.

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