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Saturday, October 25, 2014

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Chassidic leaders seek appeal against blogger’s victory

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Alex Werzberger

MONTREAL — Three prominent chassidic leaders are seeking to appeal the dismissal of their defamation lawsuit against an Outremont blogger.

Julius Grey, the lawyer for Michael Rosenberg, president of the real-estate development film Rosdev Construction, his son Martin Rosenberg, and Alex Werzberger, head of the Coalition of Chassidic Organizations of Outrement, has filed a leave to appeal before the Quebec Court of Appeal.

They believe a lower court judge erred in reaching her decision against their claim that they have been subjected to ridicule by Pierre Lacerte for years.

On Dec. 4, in a 108-page judgment, Quebec Superior Court Justice Claude Dallaire rejected the three men’s $375,000 lawsuit against Lacerte.

The lawsuit, which also cited harassment and breach of privacy, was the latest chapter in a decade-long feud between the elder Rosenberg and Lacerte.

Since 2007, Lacerte has managed the website Accommodements Outremont, where he chronicles – usually with biting satire – alleged municipal bylaw infractions by members of the chassidic communities in that borough.

The Rosenbergs have received particular attention from Lacerte. They are leaders of the Bobover synagogue on Hutchison Street across from where Lacerte lives.

The Rosenbergs, who have charged that Lacerte is motivated by anti-Semitism, are especially bothered by the blogger’s photographing of their comings and goings from the synagogue for the past decade. Lacerte has used these photos to back up his claim they routinely flout the bylaws, such as parking illegally or building without permits.

Lacerte, a former journalist, has denied he is racist and says he just wants the borough administration to apply the law equally to everyone and is exercising his freedom of speech.

Werzberger told The CJN that an appeal is being sought, even though the legal costs are high, because “Number 1, we want to quieten him [Lacerte] down a bit.

“And, number 2, he is not going to stop otherwise. The only way is to fight him.”

Werzberger described Dallaire’s judgment as “very soft. We think we have a pretty good chance if we go before a panel of three judges.”

Dallaire concluded that the blog’s content did not constitute defamation or harassment, and found no evidence of racially motivated discrimination.

She wrote that because the three plaintiffs are public figures as representatives of the chassidic community they can be subject to criticism and even parody under the freedom of expression.

Werzberger commented, “Even a public figure cannot be libelled… We’re not talking about criticism. The truth is fine, but [Lacerte] lies a lot. He misrepresents the facts.”

Dallaire also dismissed Lacerte’s counter-suit for $725,000 against the trio who he alleged are trying to silence him and have sullied his reputation with the accusation of anti-Semitism.

Immediately after the decision, Lacerte illustrated his blog about his victory with a photo montage showing his opponents being crucified. It was still posted as of Jan. 15.

The Rosenbergs’ and Werzberger’s faces are superimposed on three men hanging on crosses in front of the borough hall. The elder Rosenberg, in the centre, says (in English), “Lacerte is a real thorn in my side.”

A distressed woman below them bears the face of Outremont borough mayor Marie Cinq-Mars, another foe of Lacerte, because he feels she has been too lenient with the Chassidim.

Werzberger termed it a “vulgar and a cheap shot, but the greatest insult is to the Catholic Church, not to us.”

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