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Senator Pana Merchant and lawyer Tony Merchant sue CBC over offshore taxes story

SASKATOON – Senator Pana Merchant and her husband, lawyer Tony Merchant, have launched a libel lawsuit against the CBC.

A statement of claim filed in Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench involves a CBC story that said Tony Merchant had put $1.7 million into offshore tax havens. A television story entitled “Merchant of Secrecy” was followed by similar radio and Internet reports.

The Merchants say the stories left the impression that they broke the law.

“These defendants’ allegations in their April 3 video story and other stories were untrue and misleading, internally inconsistent, and incorrect on facts and law, all of which were intended to convey … that the (Merchants) had committed or were involved in unlawful conduct,” said the statement of claim.

The claim also names two CBC reporters and a journalist with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington, D.C. — the organization which leaked detailed financial information about thousands of people from around the world.

The head of media relations for the CBC, Chuck Thompson, said Wednesday that the broadcaster is taking the situation under review.

“CBC only received a notice of libel and not a lawsuit, so we can’t comment on something that we didn’t receive,” Thompson said Wednesday.

Merchant is a Regina-based lawyer who routinely takes on high-profile, class-action lawsuits, including one involving residential school survivors. A call to his office on Wednesday was not returned.

The statement of claim takes issue with images used in the TV story.

It says there was video of yachts and tropical islands with audio that said: “They make millions and lead great lives. While most citizens pay their taxes, some rich ones use a secretive off-shore world to hide what they really have.”

“These words were intended to convey that (Tony and Pana Merchant) were not paying their taxes,” according to the lawsuit.

The statement of claim alleges that the broadcaster used old stock footage of Tony Merchant working late in his Regina office and created the impression that he would not come out to be interviewed.

“Throughout their story, the defendants clearly cut and spliced interviews to portray the plaintiffs in the worst possible light,” says the claim.

The statement also alleges that the story gave the impression that Sen. Merchant had breached Senate rules about declaring that she was a beneficiary of her husband’s account.

None of the allegations in the statement of claim has been proven in court.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said May 29 that as soon as he learned of the situation he instructed the Liberal leader in the Senate to ask Pana Merchant to meet with the Senate’s ethics officer about the matter, and that she has complied.

The office of Senate ethics officer Lyse Ricard said in an email to The Canadian Press that it can’t publicly discuss the circumstances of any particular senator.