The Ontario Court of Appeal is allowing Cargo County Group to proceed with a lawsuit against protesters who rallied at the fleet’s office and a co-owner’s home, flooded the business with hundreds of calls in a “phone zap”, and spread complaints through one-star Google reviews and social media posts.
Protests had focused on four drivers who worked for the fleet between 2019 and 2020 and later argued they were owed thousands of dollars because they should have been treated like employees rather than independent contractors.
The truck drivers – Gurmukhjeet Singh, Dharamjot Clair, Karandip Singh and Parbat Sangha — and Nauhawan Support Network (NSN) unsuccessfully appealed an earlier ruling that rejected their bid to apply “anti-SLAPP” provisions, which are meant to quash unfounded legal actions that try to silence people working in the public interest.
Paweldeep Sandhu, chief executive officer of Cargo County Group, confirmed to TruckNews.com that the fleet’s related lawsuit for defamation, trespass, breach of privacy, and emotional harm is proceeding. “That’s going to continue,” he said.
“We have not faced any other action [since the initial protests] but it was bad.”
Pickets and protests
The Workers Action Center (WAC) and NSN organized rallies, where signs and flyers called Cargo County co-owner Randeep Sandhu a “wage thief”, while negative statements were shared on social media along with his personal address, according to the court ruling released Aug. 16.
Close to 250 people marched down Randeep Sandhu’s residential street during an Oct. 2, 2021, rally organized by NSN. Other protests at the fleet’s head office, including an information picket supported by WAC, followed.
NSN and WAC did not respond to requests for comment as this article was being prepared.
Three of the drivers had previously submitted complaints under the Canada Labour Code, arguing they were due money for unauthorized deductions, unpaid wages, vacation, overtime, and severance pay. Cargo County said they were independent contractors and not due the funds.
While Cargo County was ordered to pay $32,006 to two of the drivers as of September 2021, the fleet transferred the funds to the Canada Industrial Relations Board and appealed the decisions – leaving the money out of the drivers’ reach.
The drivers, who wanted to be paid immediately, turned to organizations including NSN, which supports young Punjabi workers and students in Canada; WAC, which helps workers in low-wage Toronto jobs, and Labour Community Services of Peel, the Ontario Court of Appeal notes.
In a letter to Sandhu ahead of the protests, NSN said its members threatened protests to “expose [Randeep Sandhu] and Cargo County Group to other truck drivers, to the Panjabi community in Peel, and to the broader public across Ontario”; speak about him and the company at an Oct. 2 rally; and share details with local media.
The fleet wrote back, urging NSN to seek legal counsel before carrying out the threats, and the group posted the letter it sent to Sandhu on its Facebook page.
The judge who ruled on the original anti-SLAPP motion noted the protesters’ action was “not to inform the public or truck drivers about the business practices at Cargo County but was intended to pressure and force Cargo County to disregard the legal process and to pay the entire amounts claimed.”
In the appeal decision, the judge said, “the harm they are likely to suffer as a result of the expression is sufficiently serious that the public interest in permitting the action to continue outweighs the public interest in protecting the expression.”
Cargo County had no history of using litigation to silence critics, the court added.
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