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Defamation is written or spoken injury to a person or organization's reputation.
Libel is the written act of defamation. Slander is the oral act of defamation.
An attack on the good reputation of a person, by slander or libel.
Defamation by writing such as in a newspaper or a letter.
Verbal or spoken defamation.
A central theme
through the ages has been that the reputation of the individual is of
fundamental importance. Professor R. E. Brown writes in The Law of Defamation
in Canada (2nd ed. 1994), at p. 1-4:
(N)o system of civil
law can fail to take some account of the right to have one's reputation
remain untarnished by defamation." Some form of legal or social
constraints on defamatory publications "are to be found in all
stages of civilization, however imperfect, remote, and proximate to
Defamation, libel and slander laws are the responsibility of the provinces.
Defamation and Assessing Damages
If one can prove that one has
been libelled, and there is no defence for the loss of reputation, the
law assumes damages and fixes an amount as compensation. The plaintiff
does not have to prove damages for actual financial loss. However, in
cases of slander, the plaintiff must prove actual financial loss before
damages can be awarded. Slanderous statements are oral and therefore,
do not have as great an impact as libel which is writtern defamination.
In many Canadian Provinces libel and slander have been combined and the
distinctions have become blurred.
The most common
defences, if someone sues you for defamation, are:
- Truth - A statement
may have hurt your reputation, but if it was true then anyone can say
it and have a good defence against a lawsuit.
- Absolute privilege
- There are two main examples of this defence:
- statements given in
evidence at a trial, and
- statements made in Parliament.
This defence also
allows the fair and accurate reporting of those statements in the
media, like newspaper reports of a trial. People must be able to
speak freely in our justice and political systems, without worrying
about a lawsuit when they do so.
- Qualified privilege - If your former employee gave your name to an employer as a reference,
the potential employer may call you. You say: "He was unreliable
poor at his work and I would not hire him again". As long as you
acted in good faith, the defense of qualified privilege protects you
if the former employee sues you for defamation. You had a moral duty
to give your honest opinion and the caller had a legitimate interest
in hearing it.
- Fair comment - We
all are free to comment, even harshly, about issues of public interest,
as long as our comments are honest, not malicious, and based on fact.
following are some "Do's" and "Don't's":
- State the facts,
and then state your opinion separately. This keeps things clear in your
- Bad: "My
neighbour John Smith is a stinking lush." This is defamatory: an
unproven, malicious ("stinking" and "lush" instead
of "alcoholic") statement about a private individual.
- Better: "My Member of Parliament, John Smith drank 10 glasses of whiskey
last night at The Local Pub. In my opinion he's an alcoholic."
The proof is a bit hazy getting drunk once does not prove alcoholism
but an MP is a public figure with less protection than John Smith.
You have clearly separated fact from opinion, and there is no particular
evidence of malice.
- Best: "My
Member of Parliament, John Smith, drank 10 glasses of whiskey last night
at The Local Pub. I wouldn't be surprised to learn he's an alcoholic." This is entirely fact, with no clear evidence of malice, about a public
is not defamation:
- Generally, a statement
made about an undefinable group of people or organizations cannot be
defamation. Take, "Used Car sales people are crooks." It's
defamatory enough, but there is no identifiable victim.
of the Used Car sales people at Smith Car Sales Company are crooks" is getting closer to the line, but it is still hard to define the
Car Sales Company is a crooked company." Now you have a victim;
Smith Car Sales Company and a possible defamation action.