A mother who campaigned with leaflets, letters and a poster on her car falsely claiming an Edmonton school principal was abusive, racist and a criminal has been ordered to pay $260,000 in damages for defamation.
Last month, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Doreen Sulyma ordered Najmeya Sana — also known as Najmeya Sana Siddiqi — to compensate the past principal for the stress and physical and emotional repercussions she suffered as a result of the baseless allegations.
“I am of the view that (Sana’s) misconduct was so malicious, oppressive and high-handed that it offends the court’s sense of decency,” Sulyma wrote in her Dec. 10 decision.
Sana has appealed the amount of the damages to the Alberta Court of Appeal.
“I never thought that the justice system will destroy me and punish me like this,” Sana wrote in her appeal, filed on Dec. 21. “I suffer, tortured by (the principal’s) actions and her nonsense lawsuit.”
In the appeal, Sana attributes her actions to depression she experienced at the time.
Although the children’s father was initially named as a defendant in the suit, the principal discontinued legal action against him in 2016, her lawyer said in an email Thursday.
School disputes escalated
The case has been before the court for more than 13 years.
After a summary trial held in 2015, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Robert Graesser found at least eight incidences in when Sana defamed Laurie Diane Elkow in 2004 and 2005. At the time, Elkow was principal of Jackson Heights Elementary School in southeast Edmonton. She is now director, staff relations with Edmonton Public Schools.
According to Graesser’s December 2015 written judgment, Sana had legitimate concerns about three incidents at the school, which her four children attended. None of the concerns, nor Sana’s depression, justified her public campaign against the principal, he wrote.
Problems arose after the children’s father argued with another parent while dropping off the kids at school. The other parent asked Elkow to call the police. Elkow refused, saying the parent could call the police themselves.
On another day, two school staff members told Sana’s children, who were dressed in T-shirts, to wait outside in the rain for their ride after school. Elkow was not present when this happened.
One of Sana’s daughters told her mother being forced to wait outside in the rain was a “message for my mother” from Elkow.
Sana said Elkow later pulled her daughter out of a math exam and asked why she had told her mother the principal was responsible for having them stand in the rain.
The relationship between parents and principal deteriorated, with Sana telling Elkow at a meeting she would make her concerns public and make sure the principal was fired.
Students ‘in danger of terrorism’
In June 2004, Elkow barred Sana from the school grounds. In response, Sana penned a letter to the district superintendent claiming Elkow was putting her children’s lives in danger. She threatened to protest in front of the school and call national media outlets.
Sana was later charged and convicted of trespassing at Jackson Heights after she parked her van outside the school in September 2004 bearing a sign the judge found defamatory to Elkow.
Sana’s sign said the principal was discriminating against her based on her race and beliefs, that she “abused and depressed my kids” and barred her from the school for no reason.
Graesser said during the next few days, Sana distributed “offensive” leaflets about Elkow in Jackson Heights and nearby areas, including to businesses and medical clinics. The leaflet claimed, “The principal call (sic) police and made up the kids and staffs (sic) are in danger of terrorism need protection,” among other unsubstantiated claims.
In her appeal, Sana denies she made the leaflet.
In subsequent letters to school district leaders and the education minister, Sana falsely alleged Elkow was abusive, lied under oath at the trespassing trial, is mentally ill and recruited parents to do “dirty work” for her.
Graesser found no evidence of Sana’s allegations against Elkow.
‘Malicious defamatory campaign’
As a result of Sana’s campaign to have her fired, Elkow’s confidence and self-esteem suffered, Sulyma wrote in her December 2018 decision.
Elkow worried her superiors or others would think she was racially biased, dishonest, incompetent, unfair or cruel, the judgment said. She had chest tightness, an elevated heart rate, aches and pains and lost sleep.
“It is no small matter that the false allegations involved allegations of impropriety against children,” Sulyma wrote. “Without doubt, the malicious defamatory campaign tarnished her reputation and the plaintiff remains severely affected by these actions.”
With files from Paige Parsons and Juris Graney
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