Monday 19 February 2018

Open Letter to Informa

Dear sir,

I’ve been led to believe that a company owned by Informa will be launching a lawsuit for defamation against my friend and associate, Alison Tieman. The allegations of defamation are so outrageous that I find it difficult to believe a corporation with a good public image, like Informa, would initiate, authorize or even allow one of its subsidiaries to threaten such an action. As such I’m writing to ask for clarification of Informa’s official position on launching said defamation suit against Ms. Tieman. 

First, some background. A lawsuit alleging breach of contract and injurious falsehood was initiated by Ms. Tieman against Calgary Expo in the fall of 2015, and regards the eviction that occurred at the 2015 Calgary Expo. 

Ms. Tieman is an independent comic creator who attended the Calgary Expo’s 2015 convention. During the event Calgary Expo expelled Ms. Tieman, without investigation, based on false allegations. This action constituted a violation of Calgary Expo’s own written codes and policies, and a breach of contract on the part of Calgary Expo. Following the eviction Calgary Expo publicly distributed defamatory false allegations made by its partner The Mary Sue against Alison Tieman. (If you wish to review all of the material supporting these facts, I would be happy to discuss it with you or provide it.)

The sequence of events is as follows:

False and defamatory statements about Ms. Tieman were publicly made by other parties, some of them associated with codefendant The Mary Sue (TMS), statements which Calgary Expo’s head of operations, Shayne Henkelman, then acted on without further investigation. His decision to act on these false statements resulted in Ms. Tieman’s eviction as an exhibitor, and a 10 year ban from all conventions then operated by Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo Inc. 

Mr. Henkelman permitted Ms. Tieman and her colleagues so little time (approximately 20 minutes) to remove their belongings and leave the premises that substantial damage was done to Ms. Tieman’s expensive booth installation. This damage alone is in excess of $4000. 

The false and defamatory allegations were, within an hour and a half of Ms. Tieman’s eviction, repeated and expanded on in an article published by codefendant and Calgary Expo cosplay contest partner TMS, an article which remains public and uncorrected as of this date. 

This article was then cited by Calgary Expo on it’s official Twitter social media account as a public explanation as to why Ms. Tieman had been evicted and banned. In addition to citing the article as the reason for the eviction, Calgary Expo reiterated to individuals questioning the article’s account of events that The Mary Sue’s reporting was accurate. This action by Calgary Expo served to substantiate the false allegations made in the article.

Within an hour or so of the Calgary Expo’s initial tweet citing the Mary Sue’s article being published, Mr. Henkelman ordered Calgary Expo’s social media director to delete the tweet. He did so because he understood that Calgary Expo citing TMS’s article in this way was legally actionable, and would expose Calgary Expo to potential litigation. He said exactly this to Ms. Tieman during a break in the trial proceedings where I was present. The additional tweet in which the Calgary Expo asserts that the Mary Sue’s reporting was accurate remains publically available to this date.

Later that same day, after much pressure from individuals on social media and Expo attendees, Calgary Expo tweeted a vague public statement on the matter that did nothing whatsoever to refute or correct any of the false allegations in the TMS article. At this time, Mr. Henkelman had evidence both in his immediate possession and readily publicly available to him that all of said allegations were false. 

Calgary Expo has maintained radio silence on the matter ever since, adding further credibility to the allegations in the eyes of the public. 

Despite TMS having reached out to Calgary Expo prior to publishing their article with a request for comment, no direct comment to TMS from Calgary Expo as to the reason Ms. Tieman was evicted appears in the article. All that appears in way of explanation, appended as an update, is the general public statement published by Calgary Expo that in no way corrects the record. 

Soon after the eviction, Ms. Tieman sent a letter by registered mail to Calgary Expo requesting they correct the public record or she would be forced to consider legal action. No reply from Calgary Expo was forthcoming. Had Calgary Expo merely performed a retroactive investigation into the allegations and made a public statement clearing Ms. Tieman’s name, no lawsuit would have ensued. The inaction of Calgary Expo in this matter is particularly egregious, since it had in its direct possession and available to it at that time evidence that not only were the allegations reported by The Mary Sue and repeated by other media outlets entirely false, but that Calgary Expo had wrongfully evicted Ms. Tieman in breach of its contract with her.

Mr. Henkelman, for his part as head of operations, conducted no investigation whatsoever regarding the allegations against Ms. Tieman prior to evicting her—allegations he would have discovered were wholly false had he done so. I know this because he told Ms. Tieman, in my presence, that had he taken the time to give even a cursory glance at her evidence, he would not have evicted her.

Through its direct actions and its subsequent and continued inaction, Calgary Expo and its head of operations, Shayne Henkelman, substantively contributed to the destruction of the professional reputation of a female comic book artist who had devoted seven years of her life to creating an original graphic novel series. Calgary Expo’s actions and inaction have cost Ms. Tieman sales, marketability, and professional and networking opportunities. As an example of the latter, at the previous Expo she had attended, in Saskatoon, Ms. Tieman was offered a job teaching at an art school in British Columbia. 

Being banned for ten years from such events means no similar opportunities will be made available to her. In addition your employee Shayne Henklemen informed Ms. Tieman, in my presence, that her 10 year ban will be upheld at all Informa exhibitions across North America, if she does not settle with Calgary Expo. 

Being banned over public allegations that she harassed people, lied on her contract and further breached said contract—allegations your employee and representative has allowed to stand as fact for almost three years despite having evidence from the beginning that they are entirely false—certainly impacts anyone’s willingness to do business with Ms. Tieman, even outside of Calgary Expo. 

In evicting Ms. Tieman without conducting an investigation, Calgary Expo breached its contract with her. In evicting her in the manner it did, Calgary Expo caused her more than $4000 in direct damage to her equipment and merchandise. In banning her for ten years with no cause whatsoever, it has impeded her ability to conduct business. In citing TMS’s article as the reason Ms. Tieman was evicted, and further, tweeting that TMS’s reporting was accurate, Calgary Expo publicly disseminated and substantiated false and defamatory statements about Ms. Tieman. This has negatively impacted Ms. Tieman’s ability to conduct business. 

And to add insult to injury, Calgary Expo reported Ms. Tieman and her associates to police two days after the eviction. Ms. Tieman’s crime? Having a picnic in a park with fans a full kilometre from the Expo site. Two police vans and four officers attended the scene to inquire as to our intentions. Our intentions being, having a picnic in a public park, eating from cold cut and vegetable platters, and taking group photos. The police report is… surreal. The police officer seemed to have a difficult time explaining to Calgary Expo and its agents that citizens simply can’t be arrested for having a picnic in a public park while holding a different political opinion. 

The trial proper began on November 28 of last year. Ms. Tieman gave direct testimony for the majority of the first two days. The morning of the third day, both defendants expressed interest in talking about a settlement, despite Ms. Tieman not even being finished giving direct testimony. 

If and when this case goes back to trial, Calgary Expo (and TMS, for that matter) will lose. I predict they will lose on the strength of Ms. Tieman’s evidence alone. 

But they will also lose because they are unable to call Mr. Henkelman, their only first-hand eyewitness to events, to the stand, as doing so will either suborn or reveal perjury on his part. Which is why, I believe, a week or two before the trial commenced, he was quietly dropped from the defence’s witness list.

Put plainly, the defendants have no defence. They have no case. Even if they had, they can’t bring a defence because their only viable witness has already perjured himself in a sworn affidavit. Shayne Henkleman is the person who made the decision to evict Ms. Tieman, and he will not be testifying. The judge is allowed by law to speculate as to why this is the case, and to draw what inferences he chooses.  

While I cannot publicly disclose the settlement terms that were discussed, Ms. Tieman was extremely generous in not only allowing Calgary Expo an opportunity to publicly correct their error and at the same time save face, but was (in my opinion) overly conciliatory on the issue of financial compensation. She has bent over backwards to come to an agreement that would paint all parties in a decent light while simultaneously compensating her for the financial toll the defendants’ actions have taken on her.

Ms. Tieman has done everything in her power to negotiate in good faith. Yet, apparently as part of their own “negotiations”, the Calgary Expo’s counsel has threatened Ms. Tieman with a SLAPP defamation lawsuit over a two word tweet made by her friend and collaborator Brian Martinez, via his personal Twitter account--a tweet made without Ms. Tieman’s knowledge, let alone her authorization. Mr. Martinez, upon hearing that the defendants were willing to discuss a settlement, tweeted “We won.” This tweet in no way constitutes defamation against either defendant, and there are multiple affirmative defences that could be successfully brought in a court of law. 

Unlike Mr. Henkelman, however, when Mr. Martinez discovered people were misconstruing his tweet, he immediately and publicly corrected the record with a clarification that no, we did not win the lawsuit, we are in settlement negotiations, deleted the problematic tweet, and then continued to correct the record whenever he discovered someone had gotten the wrong idea. 

For this innocuous tweet, that was in no way defamatory but even so was immediately clarified and corrected in the interest of accuracy, your counsel is threatening a defamation litigation against a man who was undergoing chemotherapy at the time he made it, and who has since had surgery resulting in nerve damage such that he may never walk normally again. 

That’s certainly going to be a good look for Informa. It will look especially good next to Mr. Henkelman and Calgary Expo’s own public dissemination of defamation against Ms. Tieman, which he has allowed to stand uncorrected for almost three years now. 

I am aware that most of this occurred before Informa acquired Calgary Expo. Neither I nor Ms. Tieman hold Informa in any way morally responsible for actions committed by others long before Informa was associated with Calgary Expo. However, at this point Mr. Henkelman is employed by you. Calgary Expo is an asset you now own. As such Elmer Chiu is now your council. You are paying his legal fees. Informa is, I can only assume, now responsible for Calgary Expo, Shayne Henkelman, Elmer Chiu and any actions they have taken or failed to take since Informa acquired Calgary Expo. I can only assume this includes how this matter is resolved. 

At this point in time, unless you inform us otherwise, we have to assume this threat of a SLAPP defamation suit was authorized by Informa. It was made by agents on your payroll, after all.

Ms. Tieman, myself and our associates—many of whom have a massive reach online—will do everything we can to publicize this new recalcitrance and obstructionism on the part of an entity you now own and control and whose actions you apparently sanction.

Since 2015, Calgary Expo has suffered a decline in attendance of nearly 10%. While I have no hard data proving that this decline is a result of this ongoing legal issue, I have plenty of anecdotal evidence that many regular attendees were so disgusted by how Ms. Tieman was treated, and continues to be treated, by Calgary Expo they were not planning to attend future Expos. 

Ms. Tieman’s company, Honey Badger Brigade, has maintained public silence over most of the developments since the trial proper began. Due to the overconfidence and incompetence of Calgary Expo’s counsel, I was present in the courtroom the whole time. I plan to publicize everything I saw. None of it will make Informa’s property, Calgary Expo, look good. 

I am, at this point, prepared to hold Informa morally immune from responsibility for this debacle should I learn that Shayne Henkleman and Elmer Chiu were acting without your direct and informed authorization. If you fail to inform me as to the accuracy of this assumption while allowing them to continue to behave in this manner, including holding the threat of a frivolous defamation lawsuit over the head of my friend, that will change.

If Shayne Henkleman or Elmer Chiu have acted on their own autonomy without your direct and informed authorization, they apparently believe they can initiate potentially disastrous legal actions on Informa’s behalf. And they believe they can win by attrition—delay and obstruct and delay some more, and threaten a frivolous lawsuit on your behalf and in your name until Ms. Tieman is exhausted of will and resources..

I’m writing to you to assure you that that is not going to happen. Ms. Tieman will not stop until she gets what she reasonably feels is justice. She will not run out of resources as she has the full financial backing of her community, which includes many people from Informa’s future customer base. 

Calgary Expo, under the leadership of Shayne Henkelman, committed a wrongful and legally actionable act against an independent comic creator, a wrong that has cost her thousands of dollars and her professional reputation. His refusal to correct the public record has only exacerbated the damage caused by his wrongful actions. He testified to falsehoods on a sworn affidavit, and is unable to be called to the stand by his own counsel because of this. It is my belief that Mr. Henkelman is prioritizing his own reputation and his continued employment above what I must assume would be the broader interests of Informa--that is, to bring an end to this matter with as little damage to all parties as possible.

I am aware that within large corporations, often the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. I’m here to tell you what your left hand is currently doing, and to inform you of the ways his behavior and decisions may ultimately damage your reputation. 

Allow me to reiterate. Calgary Expo will lose on at least one cause of action, and will almost certainly lose on both. A decision by a judge, even one that favors Calgary Expo, will itemize and detail every single wrongful act committed by Calgary Expo, and all of the legal responsibilities and contractual obligations they neglected, relating to the events material to this case. 

However this trial ends, Calgary Expo will be exposed as having acted against its own policies and guidelines in order to wrongfully expel and ban a female comic creator. It will be exposed as having allowed the false media narrative it helped create, that has besmirched Ms. Tieman’s business reputation, to stand uncorrected for THREE years. Mr. Henkelman, in settlement negotiations, has indicated that he needs approval from “higher ups” before making any offer or concession. As far as I know, he’s in charge of events across western Canada, so I can only assume the higher ups he was referring to are you, Informa.

Mr. Henkelman, during one of the breaks at trial, informed us that since Informa took over, all of the policies and codes at Calgary Expo, particularly regarding politicized speech and expression and investigative procedures into alleged harassment, have changed, in part because of what happened to Ms. Tieman, with the intent that such a thing never happen again. 

If Informa is willing to drastically change policy such that no one will ever find themselves in Ms. Tieman’s position, certainly Informa is implicitly admitting that Ms. Tieman was egregiously wronged. If she WAS wronged, then surely she is deserving of amelioration and compensation, including a public correction of the record and maybe even an apology from the individuals responsible.

Ms. Tieman’s reputation can be repaired if Calgary Expo, even three years later, is convinced to uphold its contractual obligation to thoroughly investigate this incident and make public its findings. If Calgary Expo refuses, Informa’s reputation can and will be damaged simply by your appearing to endorse and authorize the ongoing egregious and recalcitrant actions of people in your employ. I will do everything in my power to make your inaction public. And unlike the codefendants in this lawsuit, and I won’t have to utter a single false or legally actionable word to do it. You have the power to end this injustice, Informa. An injustice you had no hand in orchestrating, but which you preside over now as the owner of Calgary Expo. You will either choose to do so, which will be to your credit, or you won’t. 

Best regards,

Karen Straughan