Canada: Defamation And The Application Of Journalistic Standards In The Digital Age

Last Updated: June 12 2017
Article by Samuel Gagnon

In the digital age, more and more alternative media – such as blogs, Web clips or publications on social media – are appearing online. The authors of such publications run the risk of being sued for defamation when commenting or reporting on facts or events, as the decision in Bernèche v. Vaillancourt shows.

In that case the Quebec Superior Court allowed an action in damages against a journalist who conducted an online blog. The Court concluded that the plaintiff had been defamed on the Internet. 


The plaintiff Douggy Bernèche ("Bernèche") was actively involved in the boxing world. He ran a boxing club and managed several athletes. The defendant Gino Vaillancourt ("Vaillancourt") conducted a blog called "Le Guerrier Moderne" (The Modern Warrior) on which he reported and commented on various sports events. He had a degree in public communications, and held himself out to be a journalist.

Vaillancourt published three articles on his website which Bernèche considered defamatory towards him. He alleged that Vaillancourt had failed to respect several deolontogical rules governing the work of journalists.

In his defence, Vaillancourt denied that his articles were defamatory in nature and argued that he could not be held to the same standards as a journalist writing for media with a much greater readership.


Following its analysis, the Court concluded that Vaillancourt's primary aim was to discredit Bernèche, regardless of the actual facts.

A. Applicable principles

The Court first of all highlighted the following principles concerning defamation, which have been confirmed time and again in the case law: 

1. Defamation consists of the communication of spoken or written words that make another person lose esteem or that arouse unfavourable or negative feelings towards him or her2.

2. The defendant's liability is to be determined pursuant to the general civil liability regime. Thus, the plaintiff will be entitled to compensation if the defendant committed a fault that caused the plaintiff harm (Article 1457 of the Civil Code of Québec).3

3. Three types of conduct may be characterized as constituting a fault:

a. A person speaks ill of another, knowing that what he or she is saying is not true. Such speech is malicious and intended to harm the other person;

b. A person speaks ill of another when he or she should have known that what is being said is false. A reasonable person generally forbears from spreading unfavourable information concerning someone else when he or she has reason to doubt its veracity;

c. A person speaks ill of another, and while what he or she says is true, the person has no valid reason for doing so.4

The Court then went on to consider the extent to which journalistic standards applied to Vaillancourt5. While those standards do not have the force of law, and Vaillancourt was not a member of the Quebec federation of professional journalists (FPJQ), its standards may nevertheless be of assistance to the Court in evaluating the conduct of one who holds himself out as such.

B. Liability of Vaillancourt

The Court concluded that the articles Vaillancourt published contained several falsehoods as well as uncalled for and baseless opinions.

As Vaillancourt's purpose in publishing the articles was to share information with the public, he had the obligation to ensure the veracity of that information, which he did not do. According to the Court, while it could not be concluded that Vaillancourt knew that what he wrote was false, he could easily have checked whether the information was accurate by performing a summary verification.

In light of the fabrications spread by Vaillancourt, the Court concluded that he had committed a fault, and consequently ordered him to pay the plaintiff $5,000 in moral damages and $5,000 in exemplary damages. It also ordered him to publish a retraction on his website.


This decision concerns a defendant who held himself out to be a journalist. However, his website was more like a blog than a news site, on which he dealt with a variety of subjects, including nutrition, photography and physical training.

A person can work as a journalist without fulfilling any formal requirements. However, the case law makes a clear distinction when assessing statements made by a reporter as opposed to those made by a columnist. The latter enjoys much greater latitude and can only become liable by abusing his or her freedom of expression6. The former, while having the right to freedom of expression, is also subject to the journalistic standards applicable to reporters.

This is a fundamental distinction7. When the article in question is akin to a column where opinions are regularly expressed and positions taken, the journalist should not be subject to normal journalistic standards8. In such cases, whether a statement is defamatory or not will be determined by analysing the words from the perspective of a reasonable person placed in the same circumstances9, without regard for journalistic standards.

However, the Court devoted scant attention to characterizing the nature of Vaillancourt's work. The judge mentioned that the articles were intended to share information with the public10 and concluded that Vaillancourt should have respected the obligations incumbent on reporters and accordingly should have verified the accuracy of the facts he reported.

This conclusion seems to depart from the case law holding that it is important to make a distinction between the two kinds of journalism referred to above. The reasons given by the judge are short on detail. It is not evident why it should be concluded that a blogger is ipso facto subject to journalistic standards.

Insofar as damages are concerned, the extent to which the defamatory statements were broadcast must be taken into account11 in assessing their harmful impact. In the digital age, this exercise can be simplified by adducing into evidence the comments published on Facebook following the publication of the article online. In this instance, those comments indicated a negative perception of the plaintiff by the public following publication of the impugned statements.

In matters of defamation, both reporters and columnists can be held liable when the information conveyed is defamatory. However, the obligations incumbent on reporters are more extensive, and include that of having to verify the veracity of the information published. The proper characterization of the type of journalism involved is thus crucial, in order that the appropriate legal reasoning can be applied. However, the issue of characterization was never expressly broached in this decision.

Thus, the publication on the Internet of statements deemed defamatory can have major legal consequences. The potentially rapid spread of such information via social media should prompt bloggers to think twice before putting such content online.


1 EYB 2017-275837 (S.C.)

Société Radio-Canada v. Radio Sept-Îles Inc., EYB 1994-57842 (C.A.), par. 35. See also Prud'homme v. Prud'homme, 2002 SCC 85, REJB 2002-36356, par. 33.

Bou Malhab v. Diffusion Métromédia CMR inc., 2011 SCC 9, EYB 2011-186410, par. 22

Prud'homme, supra, note 3, par. 36

5 More specifically, the Court refers to section 3 a) of the Code of Ethics of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec (FPJQ), which stipulates the obligation of journalists to ensure that the facts they are relating are accurate.

Genex Communications Inc. v. Association québécoise de l'industrie du disque, du spectacle et de la vidéo, 2009 QCCA 2201, EYB 2009-166376, pars. 29 to 32

WIC Radio Ltd. v. Simpson, 2008 SCC 40, EYB 2008-135084, par. 71

Proulx v. Martineau, 2015 QCCA 472, EYB 2015-249367, par. 27

Genex, supra, note 8, par. 2; Bou Malhab, supra, note 4, par. 31. However, the quality of the reasoning and the accuracy of the information conveyed may be considered: Guimont v. RNC Média Inc. (CHOI-FM), 2015 QCCA 569, EYB 2015-250050; Radiomutuel Inc. v. Savard, EYB 2002-36079 (C.A.); Voltec ltée v. CJMF FM ltée, REJB 2002-34227 (C.A.) and Airmédic Ambulance aérienne v. Groupe Radio Antenne 6 Inc. (KYK-FM Radio-X 95.7), 2012 QCCS 738, EYB 2012-203156.

10 Par. 46 of the decision commented upon.

11 9080-5128 Québec Inc. v. Morin-Ogilvy, 2012 QCCS 1464, EYB 2012-205055, par. 82

This article is a modified version of a commentary co-written with Jasmine Laroche and initially published by Éditions Yvon Blais in May 2017 (EYB2017REP2218).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Samuel Gagnon
In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions