No signs of end to mayor's year-long legal spats with non-profits | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kamloops News

No signs of end to mayor's year-long legal spats with non-profits

Kamloops mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson (right) and Canadian Mental Health Association Kamloops branch executive director Alfred Achoba (left) exchanged letters between their lawyers in 2021, each threatening lawsuits against the other.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/CMHA Kamloops/Reid Hamer-Jackson

The mayor of Kamloops threatened a defamation lawsuit against Canadian Mental Health Association's executive director more than a year before he was elected, but it will still get in the way when it comes to city business with the non-profit.

Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson got a letter that threatened potential legal action in May 2021 when he was accused of harassing, bullying and uttering racist remarks toward then-acting executive director Alfred Achoba "and/or" his employees. The ongoing spat was what kept the mayor out of an entire council meeting earlier this month and remains a threat to keep him out of the council discussion on homeless and street issues — the major thrust of the campaign that got him elected.

The mayor's lawyer, David McMillan, said he tried to have Achoba's lawyer substantiate those claims for months, but never received an answer.

"I've exhausted my efforts to open up any sort of dialogue with these people," McMillan said. "In my experience doing lawsuits, when people make bold statements that they can't back up, you know you don't have a legitimate adversary. You know you've got someone who's just trying to bully you into silence."

READ MORE: ASK Wellness wants Kamloops's mayor to end 'defamatory' comments

Achoba's lawyer David Edinger sent the initial letter to Hamer-Jackson on May 28, 2021.

"Since January 2020, from time to time you have harassed, bullied and intimidated or attempted to intimidate Mr. Achoba and his staff. We are also advised you have uttered racist statements directed at Mr. Achoba and/or his staff," Edinger's letter reads.

Hamer-Jackson says nine more letters to and from his own lawyer followed until November 2021.

Most of those letters included McMillan's efforts to get proof or specific information about Hamer-Jackson's harassment, bullying and racist comments, with no success. By June 14, a letter from McMillan claimed he and Hamer-Jackson had "good reason" to believe Achoba was spreading his allegations about the now-mayor to other people.

McMillan gave Edinger a seven-day deadline to substantiate the claims, otherwise McMillan was "instructed that a defamation action will be commenced against Mr. Achoba without further notice."

No defamation suit was ever launched from either side.

Hamer-Jackson has told he's kept the doors at his business locked and the vehicles on his lot at a minimum for more than two years because of theft and vandalism at his Tru Market car dealership. Just after he was elected in October, a vehicle on his lot was even burned out.

He said the issues have escalated since CMHA's Emerald Centre shelter and the Rosethorn supportive housing site opened across the street on Victoria Street West, which was echoed by other business owners in the area.

"That precipitated anxiety on Mr. Achoba's part because he didn't like these questions being asked, so he retained Mr Edinger to warn Reid to quit talking to them," McMillan said. "Unfortunately, if he'd left it at that, you wouldn't be hearing about it today, but he had to embellish the situation by alleging all this nasty behaviour."

READ MORE: Kamloops mayor to keep distance from social issues — for now

McMillan added that Achoba's lawyer was not representing the Kamloops branch of Canadian Mental Health Association as a whole but Achoba personally. This became more clear when the non-profit's president Greg Thomson distanced himself from the dispute in an exchange of letters last fall, according to McMillan.

With legal threats tossed between Hamer-Jackson and Achoba, along with a more recent accusation from ASK Wellness claiming Hamer-Jackson defamed both the organization and CEO Bob Hughes, the mayor is handcuffed when it comes to any council decisions about the two organizations.

That became clear at a Dec. 6 council meeting when Hamer-Jackson declared he was in conflict with something on the afternoon's agenda and left the entire meeting. A lengthy staff report included details about thousands in grant funding for both ASK Wellness and CMHA.

Without naming the organization, he said he was dealing with unresolved legal issues with at least one of them. He added that he believed he would risk a defamation suit for simply voicing its name.

"He was sufficiently intimidated on (Dec. 6) about all this whispering and muttering at city hall about conflict of interest that he, in my opinion, erred on the side of caution when he recused from the whole meeting," McMillan said. "He simply didn't want to step into a conflict trap without understanding how big or deep the trap might be."

It's unclear how exactly his legal issues between CMHA and ASK Wellness will be resolved because neither have resulted in legal action yet. He said he's waiting for them to retract the claims they've made.

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Both Achoba and Hughes have refused to comment to on legal matters with Hamer-Jackson.

Achoba did, however, say his organization would continue to work with its clients, including those who are homeless or using drugs, whether the City challenges CMHA or not when asked how his relationship with the new mayor would affect the organization's work shortly after the election.

"We have a mandate. My mandate is to respond to the crisis we see in our community," he said. "No one stops that mandate unless the province gives us the red flag to say we don't support you."

So where does this leaves the new Kamloops mayor when dealing with ASK Wellness and CMHA on City business?

"The simple answer is he feels that he is handcuffed certainly because the allegations, just taken on their face, could make anybody think that there is a conflict at play, but he's also handcuffed because city staff and lawyers have conflated the issue into one where there is legal exposure or risk of liability on the City," McMillan said. "There's also going to be disputes or disagreements on council. I think once council understands that they're not walking on eggshells or risking a lawsuit with the City, that's a great deal of embellishment that's come into that discussion."

McMillan said the possibility of any conflict shouldn't put Hamer-Jackson at risk until there's a vote or discussion on anything directly related to ASK Wellness or CMHA, but the mayor will continue his work as normal until that happens.

Hamer-Jackson directed to speak to McMillan when he was asked about the letters to and from Achoba.

READ MORE: New Kamloops mayor skips entire council meeting due to 'conflicts of interest'

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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