A prominent Kwantlen First Nation artist and activist is suing Langley Township Councillor Eric Woodward for defamation.
Brandon Gabriel filed a lawsuit Sept. 11 alleging libel and slander in four incidents that included online and public statements. Woodward says the allegations are false and has promised a vigorous defense.
None of the allegations in the lawsuit have been tested in court.
The dispute between the two goes back to a Facebook post Gabriel wrote that was highly critical of Woodward, who was then best known as a landowner and property developer in downtown Fort Langley.
“The town of Squamish reminds me of Fort Langley 20 years ago,” Gabriel wrote. “Don’t f**k this up Squamish.” The post then suggested that if anyone there saw Woodward “sniffing around” they should “shoot him on sight.”
The comments came during ongoing controversy over developments in Fort Langley that included the construction of the Coulter Berry building. Woodward owns a significant fraction of the commercial property in the downtown core of the fort, though he has announced his land is being transferred to a charitable foundation.
According to documents filed by Gabriel’s lawyer, Woodward contacted the Langley RCMP after seeing the post the same day it was written.
An RCMP officer contacted Gabriel, but ultimately decided the post did not rise to the level of a real threat.
Gabriel says he removed the post and offered an apology to Woodward, indicating he didn’t want to cause physical harm.
“I did make a silly comment on Facebook several months ago, and it was promptly taken down,” Gabriel said when the Langley Advance contacted him about the post in 2018.
Gabriel’s claim of defamation is based on Woodward’s statements, starting with a Facebook post on Sept. 17, 2017.
Woodward identified Gabriel as “a prominent artist representing the Kwantlen First Nation” and said he had a significant following.
“I really, truly hope Mr. Gabriel eventually gets the help that he clearly needs,” the post said.
It also noted that Woodward had filed a criminal complaint, and said the RCMP can’t do too much “until after someone gets hurt. And it only takes one unstable person with a gun.”
The post was edited the following day, with most of the segment about the RCMP and the comment about “one unstable person with a gun” removed.
The lawsuit claim also says that Woodward claimed he’d received a death threat from Gabriel at a meeting of the Fort Langley Business Improvement Association (BIA) on Sept. 19, 2017. Minutes of the meeting said Woodward considered Gabriel “to be mentally unstable.”
Woodward said he could not volunteer at the 2017 Cranberry Festival as a result of the alleged threat.
On Sept. 20 of the same year, Woodward painted over a mural Gabriel had created on the wall outside of Cranberries Naturally, a store in a building owned by Woodward in the fort’s downtown.
In an interview with the Langley Times, Woodward directed the reporter to his Facebook page when asked about his reasons for painting over the mural, and noted he’d taken Gabriel’s comments as a threat.
Finally, Gabriel’s lawsuit claim targets an exchange between Woodward and interviewer and TV personality Fiona Forbes, who moderated an event Woodward held at the Chief Sepass Theatre at the Langley Fine Arts School on April 30, 2018.
Woodward again referred to Gabriel’s comments as a death threat when asked about the reason for the mural removal.
The overall impression Woodward’s comments could give to the community is that Gabriel committed a criminal offence, and is mentally unstable, the lawsuit alleges.
Gabriel also alleges malice by Woodward.
“Mr. Woodward’s conduct has been reprehensible, insulting, high-handed, spiteful, and malicious thereby justifying the court in imposing a substantial penalty of exemplary damages on Mr. Woodward,” the statement of claim says.
Gabriel’s claim said he’s been financially impacted by Woodward’s comments, including losing out on opportunities to create murals in Vancouver for the YVR Foundation and at various schools.
Woodward’s lawyer has not yet filed a response, but one is being prepared, Woodward said.
“Since this is now a matter before the courts, I can say that these allegations are false, and will be vigorously defended,” Woodward said.
He asked how someone else would feel if it was their name, or their spouse’s or child’s, that had appeared in Gabriel’s original Facebook post.
“It only takes one unstable person out there to act on statements and social media posts such as the plaintiff’s,” Woodward told the Advance Times.
Gabriel did not have any further comment on the lawsuit, he told the Advance Times.