Lawyer’s defamation claim over social media backlash called frivolous, court told

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TORONTO — A damages claim by a lawyer who objected to complaints about his comments on women and race is devoid of any merit and should be tossed out, a court heard on Wednesday.

In submissions before Ontario Superior Court, the defendants denounced claims from Oussama Hamza as offensive, abusive and an attempt to thwart a law society investigation of his public conduct.

“Much of his material is scandalous and consists of direct personal and inflammatory attacks on the respondents, on counsel and members of your bench,” said Katherine Hensel, lawyer for the Law Society of Ontario. “We will not dignify many of those submissions and evidence with a response, even by repeating some of them.”

The case arose in October when a junior lawyer in Toronto, Vincent Rocheleau, posted a message on LinkedIn about a project at the University of Ottawa related to women’s experience of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hamza responded by saying, among other things, that the project was “discriminatory toward men and other gender identities” and served “no social promotional purposes.”

He also opined that women don’t generally consider being a philosopher or historian “sexy,” and a “traditional man’s man is an extremely capable historian and philosopher, like leaders of nations.”

Hamza’s views led to a flurry of criticism in which he called one lawyer a “low self-esteem loser” and said white women had raised “murderers of Indians and Blacks.”

Rocheleau and others complained to the law society, which opened an investigation. Hamza, who has refused to co-operate with society investigators, court heard, instead filed his application for $200,000 in damages for defamation.

The self-represented Hamza, who was called to the bar two years ago, had little to say at Wednesday’s hearing before Justice Thomas Heeney.

“The law society is simply policing lawyers’ thoughts,” Hamza said. “I’m pretty sure the court and the law society will not be objective about this.”

Rocheleau’s lawyer, Stephen Moore, called on Heeney to consider ruling on the merits of Hamza’s application. Simply tossing it out as defective would leave Hamza free to start another round of legal proceedings, Moore said.

“All the evidence is in,” Moore said. “Mr. Hamza has failed to provide evidence in support of whatever allegations he has in his notice of application.”

Jessica Soubas, a member of public who Hamza dragged into the proceeding, told court she complained to the law society about his social media comments because she was horrified by them.

“I believe this was totally the right thing to do,” Soubas said. “I’m pretty let down by this entire process, confused why I’m involved at all, and shocked that it’s been going on for so long.”

Hamza declined to offer any reply to the various oral submissions.

Heeney reserved his decision.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press