A Vancouver Island hotelier accused in connection with a U.S. Ponzi scheme is suing Facebook for $50 million over the existence of an “imposter” account set up in his likeness.
According to a notice of civil claim filed last week in B.C. Supreme Court, Timothy Craig Durkin says he has been trying for months to get the social media giant to take down the account — which appears to be devoted to trolling him.
The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal battles for Durkin, who has been fighting the founders of Sooke Harbour House for years over control of the internationally renowned hotel — which was sold last month for $5.62 million as part of foreclosure proceedings.
At the same time, Durkin — who came to Canada from the United Kingdom as a child but is not a citizen — faces an immigration hearing this November in relation to an indictment issued in Alabama in 2013 that claims he and others defrauded U.S. investors of more than $4 million.
He has denied any involvement or knowledge of the scheme.
‘Working on getting it fixed’
According to Durkin’s claim against the social media giant, he says he became aware of the imposter Facebook page in mid-March.
The account contains a picture of Durkin’s face and a background of hands in handcuffs.
A series of posts refer to both the immigration case and his involvement with Sooke Harbour House.
Durkin claims he and others reported the page’s existence through an online form for non-Facebook users. He says he got a pop-up window informing him there was a problem with his request and stating that “we are working on getting it fixed as soon as possible.”
According to the lawsuit, Durkin claims he continued to get the same response in the following months, ultimately sending a letter by courier to the managing director of Facebook Canada last month requesting the “imposter page be torn down from the social media network.”
He has accused Facebook and Facebook Canada of acting “recklessly, negligently and wilfully” in “permitting the imposter to use its publishing and communication platform to distribute messages” in Durkin’s name.
Plaintiffs in civil cases don’t often stipulate the amount of money they’re looking for in damages at the outset of a lawsuit. Durkin says he wants “aggravated and punitive” damages of $50 million, but doesn’t say how he arrived at that figure.
He is also asking the court to take down the imposter page and to reveal the identities of the people responsible.
The page in question disappeared from Facebook in the hours after the publication of this story. In response to a query from CBC, the company said the account was removed for violating its community standards policies on misrepresentation.
‘It’s messy and it’s confusing’
Sooke Harbour House was once one of the world’s most renowned boutique hotels, hosting everyone from Robert De Niro to Angela Lansbury during its heyday.
Original founders Frederique and Sinclair Philip won a Governor General’s award for their work at the hotel for culinary inspiration in 2010.
But by 2014, the business was in danger of defaulting on loans, and the Philipses entered a share purchase deal that saw two companies led by Durkin take over operations.
By August 2017, the Philipses claimed the deal was off and the Durkin-led companies sued. A B.C. Supreme Court judge left Durkin in charge of hotel operations pending the outcome of the lawsuit, which is still unsettled.
In recent court filings, the Philipses, who are both over 70, claim they’ve been economically and emotionally drained by the proceedings. They claim to have spent all of their savings defending themselves.
Last month, North Vancouver-based AIG Enterprises purchased the land, the Sooke Harbour House building, and its associated assets in a court-ordered sale.
Alex Watson, AIG’s chief operating officer, says neither Durkin, his companies, nor the Philipses are involved with the property anymore.
Watson’s company is not involved in the legal wrangling or responsible for the old management’s past debts. He is hoping to restore the hotel to its former glory.
“It is messy and it’s confusing and there’s a lot of people that are angry,” Watson told the CBC.
“[Sooke Harbour House] is special. People are emotionally attached to this place like no other hotel that I have experienced before. It’s pretty amazing.”
Allegation of campaign by ‘conspirators’
Meanwhile, Durkin faces the possibility of deportation in relation to the American indictment, which alleges that he and three others bilked investors by convincing them they had developed a high-speed computerized system to maximize profits through rapid same-day stock trades.
According to court documents, the Canada Border Services Agency got an anonymous tip in September 2017 about a U.S. warrant for Durkin’s arrest.
He went to Federal Court to fight the agency’s decision to refer him to an admissibility hearing, arguing in part that his removal from Canada would be catastrophic for the community of Sooke because of his involvement with the hotel.
But Durkin lost the court challenge, and his admissibility hearing is scheduled for November.
The Facebook lawsuit isn’t the first time Durkin has asked a court for a substantial award in connection with an alleged online attack.
Last year, he sued the publisher of the Sooke PocketNews, a small local news website, over what he claimed were “hostile and harmful” comments appearing at the end of articles about his immigration battles.
Durkin claimed he was the victim of a six-month effort by a group of “conspirators” to discredit him through online harassment and cyber-bullying.
He demanded $1 million.
In response, the publisher categorically denied Durkin’s allegations, and claimed she closed the commentary section, deleting the existing comments after finding some inappropriate.
She also said she asked him for comment about stories, but he didn’t respond.
None of the allegations in the latest court filings have been proven in court.
Durkin did not respond to requests for comment. A Facebook representative said they would look into the matter.