Libel Lawsuits in Ontario
As Warren Buffet put it, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.” Ontario courts recognize that a person’s reputation is of paramount importance and so allows victims of libel to sue those that have libeled them.
Libel is when someone writes something about you that is not true and that hurts your reputation and then shares that writing with others.
In Ontario, the courts have identified that what a case is “worth” (what a Plaintiff may recover in damages from a Defendant) depends on:
- The seriousness of the defamatory statement
- The identity of the accuser
- The breadth of the distribution of the publication of the libel
- Republication of the libel
- The failure to give the audience both sides of the picture and not presenting a balanced review
- The desire to increase one’s professional reputation or to increase ratings of a particular program
- The conduct of the defendant and defendant’s counsel through to the end of the trial
- The absence or refusal of any retraction or apology
- The failure to establish a plea of justification
When someone is sued for libel, there are a number of defences that they may rely on, including “justification/truth,” “fair comment,” and “absolute privilege.”
The justification defence, also known as the truth defence, is simply when the Defendant proves that what they have written is substantially true. For example, imagine someone had a terrible experience and wrote a scathing review of a general contractor, calling them unprofessional and their work sloppy. If that person was sued for writing that review, then they may try to rely on the justification/truth defence. If the reviewer can show that the contractor was, in fact, unprofessional, and that the work was poor, then they would have a valid defence and would likely win the lawsuit.
The fair comment defence is available when the comment is:
- On a matter of public interest
- Based on fact
- Recognizable as a comment
- Could be honestly expressed on the proved facts
- Not actuated by malice.
For example, if someone wrote on a message board that their elected representative was bad at their job and then got sued for making that statement, they may rely on the defence of fair comment.
The absolute privilege defence is available when the allegedly defamatory comment is protected by privilege. For example, if during the course of a lawsuit someone writes something in an affidavit, they can not be sued for defamation for what they wrote in the affidavit, as everything said in the context of that litigation is privileged.
If you have questions about an ongoing or potential libel suit, please contact us using the contact form or by calling us at (647) 360-7147.