Defamation lawsuit sheds light on fractious Sayward Village council

Defamation lawsuit sheds light on fractious Sayward Village council
Sayward Village council before two councillors resigned this year amid dysfunction

A lawsuit by the mayor of Sayward against the village’s former chief administrative officer is shedding light on some of the friction among the council and a councillor who has since stepped down.

Mayor Mark Baker is suing John France for defamation. The lawsuit alleges France defamed him in multiple posts on a Facebook group called Sayward Rants and Raves by referring to a previous sexual harassments complaint.

The 61-year-old mayor claims the defamation began in August 2023 and continued until March 2024.

The suit lays out events that led up to the defamation.

Around Feb. 16, 2023, Baker, Coun. Burchett and the former councillor Kohen Gilkin travelled to Nanaimo to attend a municipal conference. The three of them stayed in a Nanaimo hotel.

Talia Clark, Burchett’s girlfriend, arrived at the hotel on the second night of the conference to spend time with Burchett.

Shortly after the conference, Clark filed a complaint with the Village of Sayward alleging Baker put his hand on Clark’s shoulder to indicate to a table of acquaintances at a restaurant in the Nanaimo hotel that Clark was with the mayor’s group, that he gave councillor Gilken advice “in regards to women” and made a “number of sexual comments” while at the Nanaimo hotel restaurant or bar, and that he looked Clark up and down early in the morning in the lobby of the Nanaimo hotel after Burchett mentioned that he had been “up all night.”

The complaint also alleged Baker had put his hand on her arm and shoulder at a previous event.

The lawsuit says it’s notable that Clark did not allege that the Sayward mayor touched her in a sexual manner, made any sexual comments to or about her or otherwise made any advances of a sexual or intimate nature.

“Ms. Clark does not live in the Village of Sayward and had no reason to attend council meetings, other than to cook up false allegations against the plaintiff at Mr. Burchett’s urging,” the lawsuit says.

It adds Baker did not touch Clark or, if he did, it was incidental contact and not of a sexual nature and he he did not look her up and down at the Nanaimo hotel.

SEE ALSO: ‘A big weight off our shoulders’: Sayward passes budget amidst council dysfunction

Sayward’s current chief administrative officer hired a consulting firm to look into the allegations and after interviewing those involved “concluded that their allegations did not raise issues serious enough to justify spending large sums of public money on a formal investigation.”

The consulting firm recommended mediation.

After a mediation session on April 20, 2023 the suit says Baker wrote an apology to Clark.

The suit says after that “Mr. Burchett made a show of his indignation, demanding a ‘full investigation’ and seeking unspecified punitive measures against the plaintiff,” and that Clark “reported the innocuous conduct reported in her complaint to the RCMP.”

It says the RCMP spoke with the plaintiff and concluded that the complaint did not merit further investigation.

The suit says after that Sayward’s former Cheif Administrative Officer John France made numerous social media posts referring to the sexual harrassment of the mayor after, the Village of Sayward issued a summons to the defendant around Sept. 2, 2023 “to appear before council and answer questions about Mr. Burchett’s breach of his obligations of confidentiality, given that Mr. France had received a copy of the Apology Letter.”

France is alleged to have rebuffed the invitation through social media while referring to the mayor’s sexual harassment behaviour multiple times.

As a direct result of the defamatory posts, the suit says Baker suffered grave harm to his reputation, both in the Sayward Valley and also more broadly in the Strathcona Regional District.

Baker’s suit is calling for general, aggravated and punitive damages and other costs.

When contacted by CHEK News, John France said he would not comment at this time but he was working on filing his statement of defence.

Earlier this month a second Sayward councillor, Tom Tinsley, resigned amid council dysfunction.

RELATED: ‘It’s hard to be sitting at that table’: Sayward councillor quits over dysfunction

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

Recent Stories

Send us your news tips and videos!