Vivian Bercovici, Canada’s former ambassador to Israel, is asking the Ontario court of justice to add Katie Telford, the chief of staff to the prime minister, to her suit against the federal government, in which she alleges that she was treated in bad faith, faced abuse, had her credibility attacked and is owed $32,000 in pension money.
Bercovici’s lawyers and the federal government will be in court on Feb. 25, when Bercovici will ask the court to amend her statement of claim to include Telford and four officials who at the time were employed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The hearing comes in the midst of the SNC-Lavalin scandal that is roiling the government and has seen the resignation of Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s principle secretary. Telford is also one of Trudeau’s key advisors.
Despite the timing of the hearing, the motion to add Telford and the four others was commenced well before that and is meant to remedy “a technical irregularity” that did not permit the individuals to be named in the original statement of claim, which was filed in July 2018, said Natalie MacDonald, the lawyer representing Bercovici.
Telford and the others were named in the original statement of claim, but not as defendants, MacDonald said. That’s because an earlier notice of action that had been filed by another law firm that represented Bercovici at the time only named the attorney general as a defendant. The motion to add Telford and the others is meant to cure that, MacDonald added.
Nevertheless, the government filed legal documents in January opposing Bercovici’s motion. The government asserts that Bercovici’s “claim against the proposed individuals is frivolous and discloses no reasonable cause of action.”
“The allegations made by the plaintiff do not rise to the level of ‘flagrant and outrageous’ conduct. The plaintiff has failed to plead any material facts to support her allegations of being ‘sidelined,’ ‘threatened,’ ‘undermined’ or suffering ‘personal attacks.’ The plaintiff makes bold allegations that are devoid of any particulars,” the government asserts in its filing.
In her lawsuit, filed in July 2018, Bercovici alleges she was treated in bad faith and accused Ottawa of several breaches of duty.
“From the outset of her appointment, it became abundantly clear that key individuals in the public service within the department were actively working to undermine the plaintiff (Bercovici), question her competency, loyalty, professionalism and create such a hostile work environment for her that she was left with a seriously compromised ability to perform the key functions of her ambassadorial role,” the statement of claim asserts.
She claims that senior officials “maliciously defamed” her as “racist” and “anti-Arab,” and accused her of “putting Israel’s interests before those of Canada’s.”
The lawsuit seeks $10 million in personal costs and damages, plus $32,000 that Bercovici claims she’s owed in pension funds. The sum includes a claim of $250,000 in damages from Telford “for the tort of intentional infliction of mental suffering.”
None of the claims have been proven in court.
In her current motion to add Telford and the others, Bercovici alleges that she reached out to the prime minister’s chief of staff repeatedly, to try to deal with her pension issue, but was ignored each time.
“She refused to assist with regards to Vivian Bercovici’s pension money,” MacDonald said.
Bercovici is seeking $250,000 in damages from Telford for the “intentional affliction of mental suffering.”
Bercovici was named ambassador to Israel by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2014 and served until 2016.
According to her statement of claim, Bercovici “is Jewish and a supporter of Israel. Unlike many ambassadors, she was not a career diplomat at the time of her appointment.”
MacDonald told The CJN at the time the suit was filed that her client was “a controversial appointment and did not come from the diplomatic service.”
Upon her appointment, she “immediately began to experience very significant abuse and harassment,” MacDonald said.
The case “is all about the unconscionable behaviour that (Bercovici) experienced over the course of her appointment,” MacDonald told The CJN. The 26 allegations in the statement of claim detail “deplorable” and “reprehensible” conduct by her superiors, including instructing Bercovici to contradict the government’s policy on the Middle East, prohibiting her from conducting outreach within Canada’s Jewish community and “sidelining and questioning” her competency during Harper’s official visit to Israel in 2014, MacDonald said.