Spy vs. Spy: Court details how one B.C. private eye defamed another

Lee Hanlon made ‘plainly defamatory’ claims about Dianna Holden online over 14 months, judge found

A Mission-based private investigator will have to pay an Abbotsford-based private eye $27,500 after he was found to have defamed her, a B.C. Supreme Court justice has ruled.

Dianna Leigh Holden, who operates National People Locator (NPL), took Lee Hanlon to court for online statements he made over the course of about 14 months, between July 2016 and September 2017.

Those online statements, which the court broke down collectively into 11 individual claims, were made on Facebook, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Hanlon’s personal website and a website called brainsyntax.com.

RELATED: B.C. lawyer talks defamation during the municipal election

Those claims included that she is a liar, doesn’t fulfill her refund guarantee, is a con artist, gives the profession a bad name, harassed Hanlon by pretending to be a lawyer, appropriates money from her company, is mentally unstable, has a criminal/violent background, makes false claims to authorities, sets up parents dealing with the ministry of children and families and that she is “extremely litigious.”

According to the ruling, by Justice Jane Dardi in Vancouver’s courthouse, Hanlon and Holden first came into contact in September 2011, but did not make contact for another five years after that.

After Holden responded to a Craigslist posting by Hanlon in early 2011, the two made intermittent contact over the following months, discussing work and business opportunities, including potentially working together.

Hanlon also encouraged Holden to apply for a private investigator licence, which she eventually did, and she considered hiring him as a loss prevention officer, though nothing materialized at that point.

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But the relationship turned tumultuous, and ultimately ended with a cease and desist letter sent to Hanlon, followed by Hanlon’s series of online statements against Holden.

Holden took the matter to the Abbotsford Police Department, which recommended criminal libel charges, though that recommendation was ultimately never taken up by Crown prosecutors.

Instead, in the latter half of 2017, the matter went to civil court, where there is a much lighter burden of proof on the claimant.

In her judgement, Dardi found nearly all of Hanlon’s 11 claims to be “plainly defamatory of Ms. Holden,” largely because Hanlon could not substantiate the claims, often relying on inadmissible hearsay and other unreliable evidence.

His assertion that Holden sent him inappropriate messages in 2011 with a fake Facebook profile under the name “Myrtle Higginbottoms” was made “without any cogent evidence” to support his claim that “Higginbottoms” had listed the same birthdate as Holden, Dardi wrote.

With respect to another claim, that Holden appropriates money unethically from her company, Hanlon “admits that he has no documentary evidence whatsoever to support this allegation.” Dardi also pointed out that owing taxes to the Canada Revenue Agency makes one a debtor – not a tax fraudster.

Although Dardi said claims that Holden has mental health issues is not defamatory, because mental health “should not bear a negative stigma,” she did find Hanlon’s claims that Holden was “delusional and mentally unstable” to be defamatory.

On only one claim – that Holden was “extremely litigious” – was Hanlon found not to have defamed her, as Holden acknowledged that she was involved in a number of lawsuits.

Dardi awarded Holden $20,000 in damages, and further found that Hanlon acted with malice, awarding an additional $7,500 in aggravated damages.

“Mr. Hanlon published the impugned statements with a reckless indifference as to whether they were true or false. He was not merely careless with regard to the truth,” Dandi wrote. “Moreover, he insisted on pursuing the justification defence through to trial without a reasonable evidentiary basis for doing so.”

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

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