Libel Law Update (Ontario)

Law Commentary
By
Mark Bourrie
May 31, 2020
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Just a few notes to bring people up to date on speech issues in Canada.

We are still waiting for the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Pointes Protection and another case involving Ontario’s law against Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). These are lawsuits, usually for defamation (but not always. Pointes Protection is actually a breach of contracts case) that are filed to shut people up. The law has drastic punishments for people who file these suits. In November, 2019, I represented Riverside Printers, publishers of the Beaver Valley Review, when it was sued by Gail Ardiel, an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of the Town of the Blue Mountains, and John McKean, the previous mayor. The two municipal politicians also sued another former councilor, Michael Seguin, and his wife for defamation.

An Ontario Superior Court of Justice judge agreed with Seguin’s counsel, the brilliant Gavin Leitch and I that this was a politically-motivated SLAPP suit. The lawsuit filed by McKean and Ardiel was dismissed and they were required to pay full indemnity costs — our legal fees — plus $10,000 in damages to Mrs. Seguin, who was collateral damage in this thing.

Pointes is a lawsuit involving a Sault Ste. Marie-area property developer and a local citizens group. After an earlier dispute, the citizens promised not to oppose the developers at an Ontario Municipal Board hearing. They broke that promise, were sued for breach of contract, and the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the breach of contract lawsuit was a SLAPP suit. The Supreme Court of Canada will work out how Ontario’s SLAPP law should be interpreted and applied.

At the same time, the Law Reform Commission of Ontario is examining ways to bring Ontario’s Libel and Slander Act into the digital age. I have joined a Carleton County Law Association working group that will make a submission to the commission. My own take, which may change after speaking with the other lawyers in the CCLA group, is that we should have one set of procedural rules for print, broadcast, Internet and spoken defamation. I would like to see a two-year limitations period instead of the 30-day notice period and ninety-day filing period for print libel. I would also like to see clear rules about discovery of libel. I am OK with the rule that requires notice to the defendants so that they can mitigate with corrections, but they should not have to be hand-served. Nor should the plaintiff be penalized if they make a serious good-faith effort to give notice to anonymous Internet posters and other anonymous publishers, and are unable to find them.

I have been slow to update this site because of the incredible time demands on me, as well as some health problems that are showing signs of improvement. I would like to get this site up and running at the level of last summer. Any suggestions? Email me at bourrielaw@gmail.com or DM me at @markbourrie on Twitter.