Former speaker of the New Brunswick legislature Chris Collins is suing ex-premier Brian Gallant and the province over how they handled allegations of harassment levelled at Collins in 2018.
Collins, who eventually offered a “complete and unreserved apology” for comments he made to an employee of the legislature, is suing for breach of employment contract, breach of privacy and abuse of authority.
The lawsuit was filed April 3, just two days short of the second anniversary of Collins being expelled from the Liberal caucus. Since 2012, potential plaintiffs have had a time limit of two years to file a civil claim in court.
The suit names Gallant, the legislature and the province as defendants. Collins could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.
A spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney-General said the province will represent Gallant in the lawsuit because he held office as premier at the time. Paul Bradley said the office would not comment further.
Gallant announced to reporters on the evening of April 5, 2018 that Collins had been suspended from the Liberal caucus. He did not provide details of the allegations but said the speaker had violated the province’s workplace harassment policy.
Former premier responds
Gallant said in a written statement Wednesday that “as premier, I was often unable to comment on matters related to human resources, even if I would have liked to clarify, correct, or call out false statements being made publicly by other parties.”
He said he welcomes the chance to “dispel any party’s false claims and to discuss all the different factors that went into decisions I was obliged to make in response to the actions of others.”
Collins is not suing for defamation, which means the truth of the allegations won’t be at issue in any trial. The notice of action does not elaborate on the claims of breach of employment contract, breach of privacy and abuse of authority.
The night Gallant announced Collins’ suspension, he said there had been “personality conflicts” between Collins and an employee of the legislature. He said his office found out in February 2018 that a complaint might be coming but it wasn’t filed until the end of March.
Collins gave up his functions as speaker but kept the title.
No harassment, lawyer claims
His lawyer T.J. Burke said in the days following the revelation that Collins would defend himself in the investigation because the harassment “did not occur.”
But the following month the legislative administration committee, made up of MLAs from all parties, said the investigation by Leslie H. MacLeod, an adjunct professor at Osgoode Law School, concluded the allegations were “founded in part.”
In the wake of that conclusion, Burke told CBC News Collins “accepts full responsibility for the findings that the investigator made in her report.” He wouldn’t describe Collins’ behaviour but said it was not physical harassment.
In July 2018, Collins made another apology, this time in public with his wife Lisette Richard at his side. He called it a “complete and unreserved apology,” though he said the “overwhelming majority” of the allegations against him had been deemed unfounded.
He said he had made comments to the employee that he considered “humorous and inoffensive” but that were “perceived as inappropriate.”
Collins’ suspension from the Liberal caucus meant he would not be allowed to run as a candidate for the party in that fall’s provincial election. Eight members of the Liberal riding association board in his constituency of Moncton Centre quit in support of their MLA.
Collins later declared he did not want to run for the party anyway because of the way Gallant had handled the matter.
He said he learned of the allegations late on April 5 in “a surprising and intimidating meeting” with top Liberals at the same time Gallant was revealing them publicly to reporters on a conference call.
“I was placed upon the [altar] of public consumption then and there for reasons not yet completely clear,” he said.
Gallant responded at the time that his office had “proceeded in the fairest way possible to respect the rights of all concerned.”
Collins ran as an independent candidate in Moncton Centre in the September 2018 election and was a distant second to Liberal winner Rob McKee. Collins captured 19.4 per cent of the vote.