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ASK Wellness says no more legal letters will be sent

Non-profit’s CEO Bob Hughes hopes he and the mayor can work together, noting they both have common interests

No further legal letter barbs are expected to be exchanged between thee ASK Wellness Society and Kamloops Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson following revelations of a correspondence shortly after the civic election.

A letter dated Nov. 3 was sent to Hamer-Jackson from ASK Wellness lawyer Scott Huyghebaert, describing some of Hamer-Jackson’s comments about the non-profit during the election campaign and to media as being defamatory toward ASK Wellness and Hughes.

“Neither ASK nor the chief executive officer [Bob Hughes] is suggesting, at this time, they would commence a court action in relation to your comments, but they do want to see an end to these comments, including referencing the chief executive officer by name,” Huyghebaert’s letter reads.

A response from Hamer-Jackson’s personal lawyer, David McMillan, dated Nov. 7, argues Hamer-Jackson didn’t make any defamatory comments and suggests an apology and retraction.

ASK Wellness executive director Bob Hughes told KTW the letter came about following concerns from ASK’s board of directors about criticism on social media of the non-profit agency and himself. Hughes said that criticism was being compounded by derogatory comments Hamer-Jackson was making publicly — comments Hughes said he did not wish to repeat to KTW.

Hughes said he has received threats from people.

“It has been absolutely vile,” he said.

Hughes said the board took it upon itself to respond, noting ASK’s lawyer, determining Hamer-Jackson’s comments were “teetering on defamation,” advised sending a letter.

“I was very clear in saying that I did not want to go down any kind of legal route whatsoever, but thought that I would support my board’s decision to draft a letter that indicated we wanted to work together and suggesting things, as the letter indicated, could be construed as defamation,” Hughes said.

Hughes said he couldn’t believe Hamer-Jackson released the letters publicly, but noted — as indicated in the letter from ASK’s lawyer — that the social agency hopes to find common ground and work collaboratively with the City of Kamloops, as it has done so on numerous previous initiatives.

Hughes said ASK has no intention of pursuing legal action.

The city’s legal counsel reviewed the letter and advised the municipality it was a private matter.

City CAO David Trawin told KTW he received a copy of the letter from ASK Wellness and he checked to determine if there were any legal ramifications for the city, which he said there are not.

“It’s not a city issue, Trawin said. “This is between Reid Hamer-Jackson and ASK Wellness.”

Trawin said he is not sure why he received a copy of the letter from Hughes, adding the City of Kamloops will continue to work with ASK Wellness and any other service provider based on direction from council.

Hughes, however, clarified to KTW the letter was sent to Hamer-Jackson in his capacity as the mayor. The letter was addressed to city hall and the letter begins, “Dear Mayor Hamer-Jackson.”

“It’s important to note, this was not sent to Reid Hamer-Jackson, this was sent to the mayor of Kamloops and mailed to the City of Kamloops,” Hughes said.

Trawin said city staff have not received any direction from the mayor to respond in any way toward ASK Wellness.

Hamer-Jackson said he has been a supporter of ASK Wellness, noting he was in favour of the creation of the Canadian Mental Health Associaiton-operated Emerald Centre shelter across from his Tru Auto Market business and of the ASK Wellness-run Mission Flats Manor transitional housing, noting he donated a van to the agency in the past.

“I’ve supported things all along the way and when a guy stands up in my first-ever council meeting and starts talking about how he wants everybody to work together — and behind the scenes he’s sending me a letter basically to not say his name, I’m defaming him by saying his name — I just don’t understand it,” Hamer-Jackson said, adding the letter was “basically a threat.”

Hughes was part of an ASK Wellness delegation that presented an overview of what the organization does to city council at its Nov. 15 meeting. Many questions from council to ASK concerned how the city can assist the agency in its operations.

Asked if he feels he could still work with ASK Wellness as mayor, Hamer-Jackson replied “we’ll have to see,” noting his understanding of ASK’s letter is that mentioning Hughes by name constitutes defamation.

“We’re waiting for a letter, if we get a letter back,” Hamer-Jackson said.

Hughes said ASK does not intend to respond with another letter, having already stated its position.

Hughes said he hopes he and the mayor can work together, noting they both have common interests in addressing addiction, property crime and a lack of accountability on those who commit crimes.

“I think we’re very aligned on those things and saying bad things about one another doesn’t benefit anybody,” Hughes said.