Blackridge Strategy ordered to hand over client files on political attack websites
LONDON, ONT. -- A judge is ordering political consulting firm Blackridge Strategy to turn over their client files related to a pair of politically motivated attack websites.
Justice Alissa Mitchell has issued a Norwich Order requiring London-based Blackridge Strategy to turn over detailed client information related to virginiaridley.ca and maureencassidy.ca, as well as Facebook pages “The Truth about Virginia Ridley” and “The Truth about Maureen Cassidy,” which appeared during the 2018 municipal election.
No one representing Blackridge attended the Dec. 6 court hearing.
“We had provided them a timetable,” explained Susan Toth, the lawyer representing Virginia Ridley and Maureen Cassidy told Justice Mitchell. “They never filed a Notice of Appearance. They were aware of the timetable.”
“I’m content to give you the relief you are seeking,” ruled Justice Mitchell after the brief hearing.
Blackridge Strategy prepared the websites and Facebook pages on behalf of clients during the 2018 municipal election.
The website directed at Ridley included a tab labelled “Child Abuse.” When clicked on, it showed text describing an occasion when she brought her son to a lengthy budget meeting at city hall.
The website targeting Cassidy emphasized her affair with then-mayor Matt Brown and lawn signs directing voters to the website questioned her integrity.
CTV News asked Blackridge why they were a no-show at Friday’s hearing.
"Not sure if anyone was there for the client, but at this point it wasn't Blackridge's issue," explained communications director Laura Blondeau.
Blondeau wouldn't speak about specific situations, but said that "a client would be aware that there was a court action, and that client would determine whether or not they wanted to involve a lawyer to determine next steps."
Londoner Barry Phillips, a campaign volunteer for Counc. Paul Van Meerbergen, has admitted paying Blackridge Strategy about $1,000 of his own money to produce websites about then-incumbent Virginia Ridley.
He told CTV News that the content was supposed to only focus on the bus rapid transit issue. He claims Blackridge Strategy “hijacked” the site by adding the claim about “child abuse.” Van Meerbergen has denied any knowledge of Phillips’ actions.
No one has admitted paying for the website about Cassidy.
"Past and present, we go to the wall for our clients protecting their confidentiality, but ultimately we have to obey a court order," concedes Blondeau.
Outside the courthouse, Toth said her clients “have always wanted to find out the truth.”
“They’ve always wanted to lift that veil of anonymity that the internet has,” she said.
Toth also explained that the information will allow her clients to consider their legal options. “We’ll sit down and make an assessment of whether or not there will be next steps, and what those next steps are going to be.”
Toth says those options include the possibility of a lawsuit.
Blackridge Strategy is owned by Amir Farahi and Thames Valley District School Board Trustee Jake Skinner.