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Michele Di Franco (right), alleges that Michael Bueckert (left) defamed him in several online posts. Photo: Via Facebook. Edits: Rame Abdulkader.

Di Franco, U of O Students for Free Speech exec, claims $150,000 in damages

A University of Ottawa student is pursuing a lawsuit against a Carleton student for alleged defamation, claiming that the latter has incorrectly painted the former as a member of the “alt-right”.

Michele Di Franco, a U of O masters student in economics, is claiming $100,000 for defamation as well as $50,000 for “punitive and aggravated damages” from Michael Bueckert, a PhD student of sociology and political economy at Carleton.

Di Franco is the vice-president of finance for the uOttawa Students for Free Speech (uOSFS), an organization which met with Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities Merrilee Fullerton last summer.

In a series of posts on Twitter which Di Franco alleges are defamatory, Bueckert criticized the Ford government for meeting with the group, which he characterised as “far-right”, citing an event it hosted with self-proclaimed anti-feminist U of O professor Janice Fiamengo.

Di Franco also alleges defamation in a Medium post and a podcast appearance by Bueckert, in which Bueckert makes specific references to Di Franco. In these, Bueckert was commenting on Di Franco’s 2018 appearance on the podcast of notable far-right commentator and Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes.

On Feb. 19, Di Franco’s lawyer sent Bueckert a cease-and-desist letter, demanding the removal of the allegedly defamatory posts as well as $2,000 to cover Di Franco’s legal fees.

In a response issued by Bueckert’s lawyer, Bueckert offered to retract his comments if Di Franco would publish a statement denying any affiliation with, and decrying the rhetoric of, a list of personalities including McInnes, Fiamengo, and Milo Yiannopoulos.

Di Franco instead went ahead with the lawsuit, sending the notice to Bueckert on Feb. 27.

In his response, Bueckert supported his earlier characterisations by pointing to Di Franco’s self-association with personalities that are frequently connected with the “alt-right” movement. On his Facebook profile, for example, Di Franco styles himself “Milo on facebook: James Damore in real life,” referencing the well-known right-wing commentator, and James Damore, a former Google engineer who criticized the company’s policies on diversity.

Di Franco has also tweeted a picture of himself with far-right commentator and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones with the hashtag “#FreeInfowars”.

Bueckert is now raising money for his legal fees through a GoFundMe page. At the time of writing, he has achieved more than $9,000 of his $15,000 goal.

The Fulcrum reached out to Di Franco and the uOSFS, but both declined to comment.

Bueckert gave an interview to the Fulcrum before Di Franco went ahead with the lawsuit.

He said that he views Di Franco’s legal actions as part of a trend, wherein “supposed advocates of free speech do a similar thing where they can provide a platform (for) or themselves promote extremist views, but as soon as they are criticized for it, they try to use legal threats to silence that criticism,” citing Jordan Peterson and Lindsay Shepherd as examples.