Only a handful of people know that The Coast, Halifax’s thriving lifestyles weekly, might not exist today but for the forbearance of Irving Schwartz.
About 15 years ago, the paper was struggling to survive when a now forgotten freelancer wrote a hatchet-job profile of then-Public Works Minister David Dingwall. As part of his “research,” the Coast reporter called Irving, who, with characteristic candour, offered a measured assessment of Dingwall’s strong and weak points. When the story appeared however, the plusses had vanished and the minuses were torqued beyond recognition. To a reader who didn’t know better, it looked as though Irving had gone out of his way to savage Dingwall.
Irving was livid. He considered Dingwall a friend, and was horrified to be seen as a purveyor of negativity and personal attacks. He engaged a top-flight Halifax lawyer to begin a defamation action against The Coast.
By the Irving’s lawyer filed the suit, the offending writer had left for Europe, leaving Coast publishers Kyle Shaw and Christine Oreskovitch to deal with the damage his misrepresentation had caused. They knew the paper couldn’t sustain the cost of defending a libel suit — especially one they were likely to lose, given the shoddy quality of the story. Shaw called a friend who knew Irving and begged him to intercede.
It took some cajoling, but after a long Friday-night phone call, Irving reluctantly agreed to drop the suit in exchange for a brief but abject apology and retraction, published under the masthead in the next edition.
“The kid who did the job on you is off hitchhiking in France,” the friend told Irving. “Your lawsuit won’t hurt him, but it probably will put The Coast out of business, and that would be a shame. If you met the youngsters who run this paper in any other context, you’d be a huge admirer. They started it with no money, and they built it with nothing but imagination and hard work. You would like them. I like them. You don’t want to put them out of business.”
On Monday, the lawyer tried to talk Irving out of dropping the lawsuit, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He was still angry, but had given his word, and that was that.