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Conestoga College and John Tibbits named in defamation lawsuit

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Conestoga College and its president John Tibbits have been named in a defamation lawsuit.

The statement of claim filed in Sault Ste. Marie on April 11 lists Sault College of Applied Arts and Technology and school president David Orazietti as the plaintiffs. Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning and school president John Tibbits are listed as the defendants.

The document claims the plaintiffs are seeking “an order requiring the Defendants to publicly retract and apologize for having defamed the Plaintiffs.”

They are seeking $150,000 in general damages for defamation, $50,000 in punitive damages, plus interest and court costs.

David Orazietti, the president of Sault College, being interviewed by CTV News.

War of words

The accusations date to contentious comments made following Orazietti’s appearance on a podcast produced by Village Media. During the podcast, Orazietti discussed the federal government’s cap on international students. He criticized Conestoga College’s rising admission rate and the school’s lack of student housing.

Tibbits later appeared at an event meant to promote Conestoga College’s economic impact on the local community. During that event, Tibbits defended the school’s international student admissions and was later asked for reaction to the comments made by the president of Sault College. According to the online news outlet Cambridge Today, Tibbits pointed out that Sault College has an existing partnership with the private college triOS, which is based out of the Greater Toronto Area, and they have students living outside their community.

Cambridge Today quoted Tibbits as saying, “Like Orazietti, why are his goddamn students in Toronto? Why not up there? Talk about a whore, I mean, he's taking a percentage of the profits of an operation.”

Two Conestoga College unions, OPSEU Locals 238 and 237, called for Tibits to retire after the comments were made. The unions submitted a joint letter to the Board of Governors stating they wanted to: “express our condemnation of the president’s recent public derogatory comments about sex workers and international students. An apology and investigation are only the first steps to re-establishing Conestoga’s values of inclusivity and respect; we are also calling for John Tibbits to consider retirement.”

They added that Tibbits’ comments contravene the college’s own employee code of conduct and were “deeply sexist.” Furthermore, the president exhibited an “insidious form of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment” by claiming international students are “choosing to live the way they do to avoid paying more than $400.”

The unions said “retiring will signal that he is taking responsibility for his actions” and “give him space to reflect on the harm these comments have wrought.”

Conestoga College president John Tibbits speaking at an event on Feb. 13, 2024.

Reputation worries

The statement of claim filed this month reads:

“During the event, in his capacity as President of Conestoga College, Mr. Tibbits made false, malicious and defamatory statements about Sault College and Mr. Orazietti, including the following:

  • (a) Stating Mr. Orazietti had only been on the job as President with Sault College for a few months and needed to learn to “shut his mouth”;
  • (b) Stating “Like Orazietti, why are his goddamn students in Toronto? Why not up there? Talk about a whore, I mean, he's taking a percentage of the profits of an operation," followed by "I can't stand the guy by the way.";
  • c) Referring to colleges in Northern Ontario, such as Sault College, as outsourcing their academic programs to places like Toronto and handing out diplomas like “puppy mills”;
  • (d) Stating "You should ask Orazietti what he's doing up in Toronto. Ask him how many beds he built in Toronto? How many beds have they got in Toronto? Zero,"; and
  • (e) Stating, "This guy has been on the job eight bloody months up there and he's offering project management in a couple of programs like that in Toronto and he's offering no services.”

The claim alleges Sault College and Orazietti suffered damage to their reputations as a result of Tibbits’ comments.

In a statement to CTV News, Sault College says, “We have been more than responsible in our request for a direct apology for his personal attack and misinformation about our college and our operations. However, to date, the Conestoga College Board of Governors is either unwilling or unable to hold Mr. Tibbits accountable.”

CTV News has made several requests for an interview with Tibbits since the incident in February, but have been repeatedly told he is not available.

The lawsuit states Conestoga College and Tibbits have 20 days to file their statement of defence.

- With reporting from Stefanie Davis, Jennifer Baker, and Colton Wiens

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