Federal government settles lawsuit with Canada’s former ambassador to Israel

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A lawsuit launched against the Trudeau government by the former ambassador to Israel has reached a settlement — but neither party is willing to divulge any details.

Katie Telford, chief of staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was named in the lawsuit along with the federal government. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

A lawsuit launched against the Trudeau government by the former ambassador to Israel has reached a settlement — but neither party is willing to divulge the details. 

The federal government is refusing even to disclose the date the settlement was reached.

Vivian Bercovici was named ambassador to Israel by Stephen Harper before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau replaced her with Deborah Lyons in 2016.

In 2018, Bercovici launched a lawsuit against the federal government alleging, among other things, that the Trudeau government acted in bad faith when it terminated her mandate and that she had not been properly compensated for her pension benefits.

The following year, the former ambassador succeeded in adding to her lawsuit the name of Katie Telford, chief of staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, accusing her of intentional infliction of mental suffering.

A mysterious letter

Bercovici made an offer to halt her lawsuit against the Government of Canada and Katie Telford in a letter she wrote to Alan Bender, a Toronto businessman and Liberal supporter, on Nov. 5, 2019.

Radio-Canada spoke with Bender, who said Bercovici told him she wanted to do something to thank him after he had saved her life. Bender said he suggested dropping the lawsuit and Bercovici followed up with the offer in writing on Nov. 5.

The former ambassador wrote in the letter: “I would be prepared to end my lawsuit against the Government of Canada and Katie Telford, with no terms or conditions, at the earliest opportunity … This is the clearest and most emphatic expression of appreciation I can make for your compassion and recent tremendous help that has saved my life.”

A copy of the letter was sent by an anonymous source to many journalists and media. Radio-Canada was able to confirm that it was written by Bercovici.

Bender, a Kuwaiti-born Toronto businessman who works in the field of international mediation, told Radio-Canada that he mainly works for the ruling families of the Arab states in the Persian Gulf. 

He said he was asked by important political figures, including one from Israel, to intervene to help Bercovici, who lives in Tel Aviv. He said he saved Bercovici’s life along with her professional and personal reputation.

Bender said he doesn’t want to give any more details about how he saved Bercovici’s life and reputation without her permission; she does not wish to comment.

Bender told Radio-Canada he is an active member of the Liberal Party and that he acted on his own when he suggested that Bercovici drop the lawsuit. He said Telford and the government only learned of his involvement when he gave Telford Bercovici’s letter.

Bender made international headlines when Saudi Arabia’s authorities had him testify against a Saudi businessman, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, who was detained following the so-called anti-corruption drive launched by the Crown Prince and leader of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Bin Salman in 2017.

Lawsuit remained active

According to court documents, Bercovici’s lawsuit remained active after the letter was given to Bender.

In December 2019, the month after the letter was sent, lawyers representing the Government of Canada were back in Ontario Superior Court seeking to have Telford’s name removed from the lawsuit.

In his January 2020 decision, the judge sided with the government on its request that Telford be removed from the lawsuit, and Bercovici was ordered to pay court fees incurred by the government.

After this date, nothing else appears on the court register in relation to Bercovici’s lawsuit against the Government of Canada.

Silence from the PMO

Sources first told Radio-Canada that there had been a settlement in the lawsuit. For three days, Radio-Canada tried to get information about the settlement and a comment from the government about the letter.

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Department of Justice referred those requests to Global Affairs Canada.

After directly contacting the department a few times and reaching out to the Foreign Affairs minister’s office, a spokesperson for Global Affairs sent this short response on Wednesday night:

“A settlement has been reached. We cannot comment on the details.”

It is still not known who leaked the letter to the media and why, or whether there is a link between the settlement and the letter. The email address the letter was sent from no longer exists.

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