‘Bond villain’: Organizer accused of Zoom theft by O’Toole campaign seeks apology
OTTAWA — The organizer Erin O’Toole named in a complaint about an alleged theft of Zoom materials more than two years ago is suing the former Conservative leader and demanding an apology, saying his name has been dragged through the mud.
Jamie Lall served as an organizer for the leadership campaign of Peter MacKay, the runner-up in the 2020 leadership race that saw O’Toole crowned the victor.
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That summer, months after the contest was turned upside down by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, O’Toole tweeted a statement that his campaign was filing a complaint with police alleging MacKay’s camp had stolen “confidential data and strategy,” including recordings of Zoom video calls with party members.
O’Toole’s statement specifically named Lall, who is a Calgary-based organizer, as the one who obtained the login information used to download the information — an allegation he continues to deny.
The RCMP confirmed last year that two people had been charged in the matter, but neither of the individuals named were Lall. Police spokeswoman Robin Percival says its investigation has since concluded and the file is closed.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Lall says the allegation against him has hung over him “like a dark cloud.”
“It’s brutal, right? It does carry a stigma,” he said.
“You become known as, ‘Oh, you’re the guy who hacked some accounts and some Zoom videos.’ You can only deny it so many times.”
Last August, Lall launched his $2-million lawsuit against O’Toole and other members of his campaign team who, according to court filings, are due to appear for questioning in June.
His lawsuit alleges that during the campaign, he agreed to participate in a conference call with several members of O’Toole’s team who Lall says “threatened and intimidated” him to provide them details about the leak.
A statement of defence filed by O’Toole and members of his former leadership team confirms that they did participated in a call about the leak, but denies the allegations they acted in a threatening matter.
The defence document says Lall should be expected to present “strict proof” that the interactions happened the way he is claiming. They are asking for his suit to be dismissed.
Clarissa Schurter, a spokeswoman for O’Toole, says the matter is being “vigorously defended,” and the former leader has no comment while the matter is before the courts.
The Ontario MP, who was ousted as the party’s leader in early 2022, is set to retire from politics in June.
In addition to damages due to defamation, Lall is asking for an apology and a retraction.
He says that’s mainly what he wants, pointing out that his was the only name in the campaign’s statement, which was never taken down from social media.
“The way it’s written, it looks like I’m (some) sort of diabolical Bond villain who is hacking systems and stuff,” he said.
“If there was any wrongdoing on my part, I would be in trouble. There’s no grey area. It seems pretty black and white to me. Either you did something wrong or you didn’t.”
The statement of defence says the campaign’s communications team was responsible for issuing the statement bearing Lall’s name, and none of the people named in the lawsuit were involved in its crafting.
Even so, O’Toole and his former campaign staff contend that the statement “did not injure or harm” Lall.
They allege that the organizer’s previous actions on matters unrelated to the leak might have damaged his reputation instead, and that his claims the campaign’s statement played a role in how he is seen “are exaggerated.”
None of the allegations in the statement of claim or defence have been proven in court.
Lall’s lawyer, Aryan Sadat, says the case is progressing and he will have an opportunity to question the defendants named in the lawsuit on their affidavits in Calgary on June 7.
“Mr. Lall should have an opportunity to be able to clear his name because, he was dragged into something that he shouldn’t have been,” Sadat said.
“And the way I practice is I don’t care who’s on the other side. I go by what I feel is right.”
Lall added all he wants is for someone to admit that a mistake happened — “or even just a phone call, just saying, ‘We got it wrong,”‘ he said.
“I didn’t want to have to fight. But I didn’t pick this fight.”
— With files from Bill Graveland in Calgary.