The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.” Like all other rights protected under the Charter, these rights are not absolute.
It takes years of hard work for a business or an individual to develop a respectable reputation. The importance of building a name is central to an individual’s career or the growth of a business. When false statements are made, either verbally or in writing, they can have a profound impact and detract from the years of hard work it takes to building goodwill and status.
The term defamation refers to the harming of a person’s reputation by the use of false written or oral statements to a third party. The laws surrounding defamation are geared towards protecting the reputation and offering restitution to those people and/or businesses whose reputation has been unfairly damaged. The majority of all cases involving defamation before the courts comprise of a person suing another for damages from defamatory statements that have already been made.
Generally speaking, defamation is about paying damages to those who are harmed by your speech. As Canadians, we are all provided with right to free speech so that we can say what we want, but there are limits to free speech and you may have to pay for it. In Ontario, the legislation around defamation law is found in the Libel and Slander Act (the “Act”). Under the Act, defamation is divided into two categories: libel and slander.
Libel is a defamatory statement, made in writing, that causes harm to another person or entity’s reputation. This is defamation that has a permanent record and is false information that is often published in an email, newspaper, TV and radio. It is important to note, false statements made in blog posts, including social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, can fall within the category of libel.
In libel cases, the courts look to determine whether a false statement with a permanent record has been made about someone to a third party. If the answer to this question is yes, then the courts will presume damages were suffered. The libelous statement must also be seen as a factual statement. It cannot be a mere opinion about a person or entity. Libel differs from slander which refers solely to spoken words.
Out of the two types of defamation categories, the majority of cases in front of the courts in Ontario for defamation are libel cases. Slander, on the other hand, is defamation without a permanent record. This is a false oral statement that is made to harm a person’s reputation. The law treats slander different from libel.
With slander, a party may have to prove that they suffered damages (financial loss) in order to get compensation. There are situations where you can sue for slander without proving you had an actual financial loss (accused of a crime, accused of adultery, having a contagious disease, negative remarks made regarding your work, profession, trade etc.), however, outside of a few select examples, in order to successfully sue for slander, the person suing will have to show that the false words caused them a financial loss.
There are many legal defences against defamation. A true statement, or a mere opinion, cannot be legally considered to be a defamatory statement. Absolute and qualified privilege are other defences used in defamation cases.
Absolute privilege is when a person making the statement has the absolute right to make that statement at that time, even if it is defamatory. This person is seen as immune from a defamation lawsuit. Some examples of absolute privilege are judicial proceedings, high government officials and legislators during legislative debates. Qualified privilege is a defence where the person making the defamatory statement has a legal, moral or social duty to make it and that the statement is being made in good faith without malice.
There are other defences to defamation and it is important to consult with a lawyer prior to commencing an action for defamation to be fully informed of your rights and chances of success.
If you or a loved one has been targeted by untrue public statements and are concerned about the future impact this may have on your career or business, it is important to contact a lawyer as soon as possible. The sooner you contact a lawyer, the sooner you will be able to manage the situation and mitigate against any further damage from occurring.
At Chand Snider LLP, our skilled litigators have years of experience representing both individuals and businesses who have been subject to defamatory, slanderous or libelous statements. If you are an individual or a business who believes that defamatory comments have been made against you, whether in writing or orally, call the lawyers at Chand Snider LLP at 416.583.2377 today.