In an interview with Law Times, Elizabeth Grace, civil sexual
assault lawyer, comments on a recent Superior Court of Justice
decision where an Ontario man successfully sued his nieces for
defamation after they sent out e-mails to family members alleging
he sexually abused them when they were young girls. The uncle was
awarded $125,000 in damages after a judge found that his
nieces' accounts of abuse were "vague" and
The alleged incidents occurred between 1982 and 1986, when the
sisters were each between four and six years old. The judge found
that neither sister had provided evidence of a "clear and
cogent nature ... to substantiate [her] claim of sexual
abuse". He dismissed the sisters' claims of sexual
The judge ruled that the sisters could not rely on the defence
of qualified privilege to counter their uncle's defamation
claim. Qualified privilege protects an individual making an
otherwise defamatory statement where the person making the
communication has an interest or duty to make the statement and the
person to whom the communication is made has a corresponding
interest or duty to receive it. The communication must be
reasonably appropriate in the context of the circumstances at the
time the information is transmitted; if it is, then a claim for
defamation will be dismissed unless the party claiming to have been
defamed can prove the words were spoken with actual malice. In this
case, the judge found that the nieces (and their father) did not
have a duty to publish defamatory statements about the uncle.
Furthermore, the judge found that the defendants did not have an
honest belief that the uncle was a child molester, and therefore
the judge held that they were motivated by malice.
The judge justified the $125,000 award of damages for the
defamatory statements on the basis that "[a]llegations of
sexual abuse do not die easily and probably never will." The
judge also considered the damages he would have awarded the sisters
if their allegations of sexual assault and battery had been proven.
He said he would have awarded each of the sisters $35,000 in
general damages. The discrepancy between the large actual award of
damages for defamation and the relatively small theoretical award
for sexual assault and battery is disturbing to many.
Grace, who regularly represents victims of sexual abuse,
describes this decision as concerning. Courts in cases like this
one must strike a tough balance between encouraging victims of
abuse to speak out and protecting the reputations of people
wrongfully accused of terrible misconduct. In an interview with the
Toronto Star, Grace says that it is "very rare" that
victims of alleged sexual assault are found liable for defamation.
The lack of support and self-doubt experienced by many survivors of
sexual abuse is already a large impediment to pursuing legal
remedies for the harms that they have experienced. There is a
concern that "...the publicity [about this decision] could
discourage people from coming forward," says Grace in an
interview with CBC. Also, "[a] case like this ... will give
defence counsel reason to start counterclaims for
It's not often that our little blog intersects with such titanic struggles as the U.S. presidential race – and by using the term "titanic" I certainly don't mean to suggest that anything disastrous is in the future.
J.J. v. C.C., is an interesting case in which the court held that an automotive garage owes a duty to minor children to secure the vehicles on the premises by locking the cars and safely storing the car keys...
In Irwin v. Alberta Veterinary Medical Association, 2015 ABCA 396, the Alberta Court of Appeal found that the "ABVMA" failed to afford procedural fairness to a veterinarian undergoing an incapacity assessment.
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