Canada: No Two Libel Cases Are The Same – But Internet Libel Attracts Higher Damages

Last Updated: April 10 2018
Article by Tae Mee Park

The Ontario Court of Appeal ("OCA") recently upheld an award of $700,000.00 in damages for libel arising out of a vicious internet defamation campaign. The decision is noteworthy in the following aspects: a judicial recognition of increased damages for internet smear campaigns; less reliance on damages awards in other (defamation) cases, unlike the tendency to do so in personal injury cases; joint liability found even where one defendant does not publicly approve or repeat the defamatory statements; and vicarious liability of a company found where the company is used to perpetuate the defamation campaign, even if the actions do not inure to its benefit.

In Rutman v. Rabinowitz, the case involved a vicious internet smear campaign conducted by two businessmen, SR and MB, against RR, a former associate with whom they had a falling out. The defendant SR used various email accounts to anonymously email the plaintiff RR's partners and others, alleging RR was involved in money laundering and tax evasion. RR was a chartered accountant. SR also posted to a website containing reviews of professionals, in which he alleged RR was a "thief and a bastard", and someone who "deserves to be behind bars". The defamatory activities persisted over a lengthy period and the Court called them "unrelenting, insidious and reprehensible".

Initially, SR denied involvement and tried to hide his IP address and sought to delete and destroy electronic data. He eventually admitted to his wrongdoing and acknowledged that the postings were made with malice and that he tried to maximize RR's pain and suffering.

The co-defendant MB argued that he was not liable as he never agreed to the campaign and that he was not aware of it until much later.

On appeal, the OCA upheld the trial judge's decision to award $200,000 general damages against the three defendants (SR and MB and their company, Artcraft), $200,000 aggravated damages and $250,000 in punitive damages against SR, and $50,000 punitive damages against MB.

In upholding the trial judge's decision against MB, the OCA held that concerted action liability, or joint liability where there is common design or conspiracy, is fact-specific and was made out on the facts. While MB did not publicly approve or repeat the defamatory statements, he was not merely a "passive or silent observer" of the campaign; he was aware of the campaign and willing it to his potential advantage in their business dispute.

In upholding the trial judge's decision against the company, the OCA held that the company was vicariously liable in that: the defendants were the controlling shareholders, directors and directing minds of the company; they authorized the use of company equipment and employees to perpetrate the campaign and to try to conceal their involvement in it; there is no requirement that actions inure to the benefit of a corporation in order for the corporation to be held vicariously liable.

The OCA also rejected the argument that the damages award was "irrational and incoherent" by ignoring the plaintiff's alleged admission that he suffered no reputational harm and by being inconsistent with awards in similar cases. The OCA noted that it is trite law that general damages in libel are presumed and that special damages for pecuniary loss are rarely claimed and often difficult to prove, thus the whole basis for recovery for loss of reputation usually lies in general damages. It also noted that the plaintiff simply acknowledged that he was unaware of specific injury to his reputation which does not lessen the injurious effects of the defamation, particularly for professionals, including but not limited to lawyers, chartered accountants and tax advisors.

Furthermore, the OCA noted that the "pernicious effects" of cyber libel distinguishes it, for the purposes of damages, from defamation in other mediums and that the trial judge appreciated the "requirement that the analysis of the damages occasioned by the extensive Internet defamation campaign be evaluated in the context of the 'unique and somewhat insidious nature of [I]nternet defamation' and in light of the fact that the defamatory statements at issue were 'instantly available to an unknown number of recipients'." The OCA also noted libel cases are particularly fact-sensitive and that variability in the amount of compensatory damages awarded in Canadian libel cases does not mean that the award in this case is "incoherent". Finally, it concluded that the trial judge's reasons confirmed that he appreciated the purpose of punitive damages, their exceptional nature and the need to be fair to both sides. Interestingly, the amount of punitive damages in this case was considerably more than punitive damages awarded in an oft-cited earlier OCA decision involving internet defamation ($250,000 here, versus $50,000 in the earlier case) but the OCA held that the assessment of damages in each case "must account for a myriad of idiosyncratic factors particular to the parties, the misconduct in question and the conduct of the litigation."

Traditionally, general damages in Canadian defamation cases have not been significant and this decision highlights the distinct nature of internet libel when it comes to damages and the justification of increased awards.

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.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
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