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Pride pays for theft rumours

Former volunteer wins $2,000 in slander case

Pride Toronto has paid a former volunteer $2,000 plus more than $500 in court costs after a small-claims court judge ruled that organizers had slandered him.

Gary Rorison, a professional events organizer, had been Pride Toronto’s volunteer food and beverage coordinator for the 2004 celebrations, but was dismissed that September. Rorison says he wasn’t given a reason for the dismissal. In the following weeks, he says he heard from several sources that Pride organizers had told people he was fired for stealing.

“It was all over the community. I heard rumours through people in the US,” says Rorison, who had asked for the small-claims court maximum settlement of $10,000. “I’m glad that the court has found I did nothing wrong and that Pride slandered me.”

Rorison filed his claim in November 2004 and Pride responded on paper. Pride argued that neither staff nor board members told anyone Rorison had taken anything.

“When the statement of defence was filed, the two cochairs were satisfied that nobody ever made those statements. It was akin to a letter of apology,” says Pride Toronto’s lawyer Derek Vanstone.

But akin to an apology is not the same as an apology; Rorison went ahead with his case, which he won on Aug 18. He called two witnesses who claim to have heard the defamatory statements. Former cochair Pitt, who Rorison says was a primary source of the statements, testified on behalf of Pride. (Pitt declined to comment for this story.)

“I just want to put it behind me,” says Rorison. “I’m going to donate the money to charity, for cancer.”

As a last bit of drama in the case, Rorison says Pride offered to cut him a cheque for the judgment, but, when he arrived at the office, wouldn’t give it to him. Vanstone says that’s because Pride believed Rorison had already filed a garnishment order against Pride, to have the money taken directly from its bank account. In the end Pride did issue him a cheque and Rorison did not enforce the garnishment order he filed.

Pride cochair Natasha Garda, who came onboard just after the incident and whose two-year term ends in October, says she’s glad the lawsuit isn’t hanging over Pride anymore.

“I regret that it happened,” says Garda. “If Gary feels he was wronged by Pride Toronto, I regret that. To go as far as to take us to court, it’s a lot of resources and time spent on our end and on his end, too.”

Still, “because the court favoured [Rorison’s] allegations doesn’t mean it happened,” says Garda.

Garda says Pride has taken measures to prevent a similar case from happening again — by more diligent screening of volunteers.

“About two years ago, after the incident, we started a selection process for senior-level positions,” says Garda. “It’s almost like a job interview to ensure we have the right kind of person as a volunteer.”

Pride has also beefed up its grievance policy, so volunteers can more easily take concerns to the volunteer-program coordinator.

“You never want them walking away feeling they were let down by the organization,” she says. “The vast majority of them have a positive experience.”