Gill stays ‘mum’ on lawsuit cost to Surrey taxpayers

SURREY — Coun. Tom Gill refused to elaborate about a defamation case Tuesday, saying municipal lawyers are still working on the file.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean anything other than the fact that we’re just trying to figure out if there’s a resolution that we can come up with,” he said.

Gill is being sued by Surrey businessman Harjit Atwal over comments Gill made to the Surrey Leader about a violent 2010 incident involving a family member, prominent Surrey broadcaster Maninder Gill, who still faces criminal charges over that matter.

The defamation case filed by Atwal, who was shot in the thigh outside a wedding at Newton’s Guru Nanak temple, is set to go to trial before a B.C. Supreme Court judge in New Westminster this week, though no court date has been made public.

The issue became controversial when it was revealed the City of Surrey is covering Gill’s legal expenses even though it’s unclear whether he was acting on city businesses when he allegedly made the comments he’s being sued for.

There’s been no word of the exact amount Surrey taxpayers are on the hook for and when asked, Gill laughed, repeating the statement that he can’t comment on the specifics of the case.

“I wish I could give you the whole details right now but I’m just not at liberty to discuss this file with you,” he said. “I might have some more comments for you in the future.”

When asked to estimate when that future date might be he wouldn’t speculate, adding, “I’m not a fortune teller.”

Gill did say nothing has been finalized or settled out of court.

A source who spoke to the Now on condition of anonymity said the amount is in the range of $50,000. Gill refused to confirm or deny this figure.

Surrey’s bylaws state that municipal employees should have their legal costs covered if they’re facing a court action “in connection with the exercise or intended exercise of the person’s powers or the performance or intended performance of the person’s duties or functions.”

In a comment made to the Now last week, Gill said he received a legal opinion from outside city hall “and that legal opinion was consistent with the direction that both I and staff took.”

Surrey city solicitor Craig MacFarlane wrote in an email that the amount of legal fees paid thus far couldn’t be released because it is also covered by solicitor-client privilege.

This isn’t the first spat between Maninder and Atwal. At the time of the 2010 incident, the two were reportedly feuding over another defamation case.

Atwal had sued Radio India and a dozen staff members, including managing director Maninder, alleging defamation and libel over comments made on the air. In 2011, Radio India was found guilty.

With files from Amy Reid

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