Former Canadian publisher pleads for Barbados vacation before serving sentence
TORONTO — Bob Verdun begged Ontario’s Superior Court for mercy Friday, telling a judge he’d like to spend the winter in Barbados before serving out an expected house arrest sentence in Kitchener.
The former publisher of the Elmira Independent newspaper tried to strike a deal with Justice Robert Goldstein at his sentencing hearing for his second contempt of court conviction, his latest in a string of legal troubles.
“I have been absolutely beaten down by this and I have learned, learned, learned,” Verdun said. “I accept full responsibility for my actions and I beg this court for mercy.”
The self-described “public interest crusader,” who was convicted of defaming former Clarica executive Robert Astley in 2011, has falsely accused Astley of cheating taxpayers in Waterloo’s RIM Park financing scandal.
Verdun now owes Astley, the former chair of Wilfrid Laurier University, more than $900,000 in damages and costs after a long legal battle. His first conviction for contempt of court came in October 2013, after he approached Kitchener Centre MP Stephen Woodworth to discuss RIM Park — breaking a court order not to speak about Astley.
He was convicted of the same charge a second time last month, after he continued a European vacation despite being ordered back to Kitchener to finish out his first house arrest sentence.
On Friday, Verdun asked his new sentence be delayed so he can winter in the Caribbean with his common-law wife, for health reasons. He told the court he’s her primary caregiver and she has difficulty in wintery conditions.
Astley’s lawyer Brian Radnoff was having none of it.
“You’ve heard this before, and yet, here we are again,” the lawyer said. “He’s consistently disobeyed court orders, and shown a significant level of disrespect for this court. A message must be sent.”
Verdun, 64, started his sentencing hearing by dismissing Arnold Zweig as his legal counsel, telling the court “my lawyer has abandoned me.” He represented himself for the rest of the hearing, and apologized to Justice Goldstein for his “error in judgment” for defying the court again.
Verdun said he stayed in Europe despite the court order because he had to care for his common-law wife, who has back problems. She needed therapeutic swimming sessions at a friend’s pool in France and had an osteopathic appointment in London, he said.
Last week, the judge blasted Verdun for “wilfully and intentionally” ignoring the court order to return to Canada and resume his sentence — saying he “thumbed his nose” at the justice system.
Outside court Friday, Verdun was adamant he’d done nothing wrong in the defamation suit and objected to how he’d been characterized since.
“I’ve been pilloried for something I didn’t do. Judges don’t understand me, lawyers don’t understand me,” he said, in an interview.
Verdun said everything he’d done was “always in the public interest,” whether he’s fighting for the environment, women’s rights or shareholders.
Verdun also described a $30-million plan to redevelop an abandoned hotel site in Barbados into a vacation condominium complex. He said he’s the project’s chief marketer and consultant, and if successful, it could make him a “prosperous man, for the first time in my life.”
He said he’s working with a team of people trying to drum up investment in Canada to buy the site and begin construction at the unused, 40-year-old resort — but that work is best done on the ground in Barbados.
Verdun said he intends to pay the money he owes Astley. He hasn’t filed for bankruptcy for that reason.
But Astley, who recently retired as chair of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, is doubtful he’ll ever see a penny from the former newspaper publisher, his lawyer said.
“My client has no hope of ever getting any money from Mr. Verdun,” Radnoff said.
He strongly opposed Verdun’s request that any new sentence be delayed so he can return to Barbados, where he and his wife rent an apartment for the winter.
“We are not here to make things convenient for Mr. Verdun or impose penalties that are consistent with Mr. Verdun’s travel plans,” Radnoff said.
Verdun was ordered to stay in Ontario and leave his passport with the court office until Justice Goldstein hands down his sentence next week.
And while Radnoff is asking the judge to impose a punishment of 90 extra days of house arrest for this latest breach, the lawyer said jail time isn’t out of the question.
“There is an appropriate basis here to send Mr. Verdun to jail,” he said. “The penalty must be severe enough so Mr. Verdun and the public understand this type of behaviour will not result in light sentences.” (Waterloo Region Record)