Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Freedom of Speech & Defamation

At the end of our previous article (April 02, 2016) we issued the following warning to our readers: “…do not defame the reputation of the person in a position of authority simply because he/she failed to meet certain expectations.” 

In order to understand and abstain from defaming the reputation of an individual or an identifiable group of individuals, we need to understand the legal concept known as “DEFAMATION”. It has two key components: 
A) Libel is a defamatory statement that is made in writing, print, electronic format, or any other method that produces a permanent record. 
B) Slander is a defamatory statement that is spoken or involves gestures, symbols, and signs that can harm a person’s reputation. 
Bloggers cannot engage in any form of responsible writing if they fail to understand their obligations under existing Canadian Defamation Laws.

Canadian Courts have often classified an article in print form as “libelous” or defamatory, if a judge discerned in the written text false statements, lies, or fabricated claims and the content of such a text inflicted a measurable damage on a person's reputation or financial resources.

To protect the sanctity of freedom of speech guaranteed by The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (a.k.a. The Charter) and entrenched in the Constitution of Canada, judges have pointed out in their verdicts that Statements that are damaging and true are not defamation.”

For example, let us dissect a fictional situation. You are sitting in a coffee shop sipping your favorite latte and reading “The Toronto Sun” left behind by a patron. All of a sudden you see the familiar name of a neighbor who lives in your condo complex and happens to be a Board member. You want to cover all the details meticulously so you focus closely on the title “Drugs Seized At Pearson Two Arrested”. In the text you see the name, age, and profession of your neighbor who has convinced you years ago that he is a very successful real estate agent, but due to mysterious reasons he decided to sacrifice his reputation, and launch a new business venture in the field of coordinating the supply and demand of drugs in The City of Toronto. 

YES, you can go home and fire dozens of emails to your neighbors who should know what kind of a person is living in their midst, and you may want to promote his ouster from The Board of Directors of your condominium because of the nature of the crime allegedly committed, but chose your words wisely. What you read in the newspaper is nothing but an “allegation”. Nothing has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. You still have a moral and legal obligation to balance your freedom to voice a concern with adequate safeguards to prevent a permanent harm to the reputation of your neighbor who is also a Board member. 

NO, your neighbor does not have a reasonable chance of obtaining a favorable verdict in a lawsuit accusing you of libel. A judge will dismiss it from the early stages of the game for several reasons:
A) He destroyed his own reputation by engaging in a criminal activity-importing illegal chemicals/drugs.
B) In a December 2009 decision, The Supreme Court of Canada said that journalists/bloggers/twitters should be able to report statements and allegations if there’s a public interest in distributing the information to a wide audience, especially if the news was urgent, serious, and of public importance, and the journalists/bloggers used reliable sources, and tried to get and report the other side of the story.

However, bloggers beware of a danger that has spread its tentacles during the last decade and managed to silence a dozen of bloggers/Condominium Owners in The City of Toronto by relying heavily on SLAPPStrategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”. Slapp’s primary purpose is to suffocate any form of criticism centering on publicizing the shortcomings of a Condominium Board of Directors. Without any valid legal premise, The Board because it has access to huge financial resources, instructs a lawyer to launch a defamation lawsuit against a blogger, while being well aware that the chances of succeeding are extremely slim and sometimes non-existent. By peddling to the blogger a gloom and doom scenario of the heavy financial burden he has to shoulder in case he wants to challenge in a court of law the unreasonable allegations of The Board, and fearful of a guaranteed financial ruin, the blogger surrenders to The Board and shutts down his blogging site. So measure twice, cut once.

This article should not be relied upon or construed, implicitly or explicitly, as an individualized legal opinion/advice on the issue of defamation. Readers should seek the legal opinion of a lawyer who specializes in this specific domain. The article is strictly for educational purposes, with the key objective of emphasizing the cardinal role of maintaining a balanced approach when criticizing a Condominium Board or a Management Company that acts as the executive arm of The Board.

Admin The 215 Forum © April 06, 2016  

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