Canada: Le recours en diffamation d'un avocat québécois envers un journaliste rejeté pour abus de procédure

La Cour supérieure vient de condamner un avocat pour avoir tenté de museler un journaliste par une poursuite judiciaire jugée abusive.

La Loi sur la presse confère aux journalistes et aux éditeurs de journaux une immunité en ce qui concerne la diffusion d'informations cueillies lors de débats judiciaires, et ce, tant que les faits sont rapportés exactement et de bonne foi. C'est ce que la Cour supérieure a récemment réaffirmé dans Desmarais c. La Presse. Du même souffle, elle a jugé que La Presse et son journaliste n'avait pas commis de faute et que la poursuite dont il était question dans cette affaire était abusive. En effet, selon la Cour, en tant qu'avocat, le demandeur aurait dû savoir que son recours était voué à l'échec.

L'histoire remonte au mois de juin 2014, alors que le quotidien La Presse publie deux articles rédigés par le journaliste Francis Vailles sur le procès de l'avocat Jean-Pierre Desmarais qui était poursuivi par l'Autorité des marchés financiers. L'AMF alléguait que Me Desmarais avait aidé la Fondation Fer de Lance (FFDL) à procéder au placement sans prospectus d'une forme d'investissement et qu'il avait exercé le rôle de courtier en valeurs sans être inscrit à ce titre. FFDL proposait à des investisseurs de mettre en place des ingénieries financières qui devaient engendrer des revenus et auraient ensuite servi à les rembourser, à leur verser une compensation et, quant au reliquat, à soutenir une mission humanitaire. Or, l'AMF reprochait à Me Desmarais d'avoir outrepassé son rôle d'avocat auprès de FFDL en agissant comme intermédiaire entre FFDL et les investisseurs, et d'avoir ainsi exercé des activités réservées au courtier en valeurs.

Or, c'est sur la base de ces deux articles publiés en juin 2014 par Francis Vailles que Me Desmarais a poursuivi celui-ci et La Presse, dans l'affaire dont il est ici question. Plus particulièrement, Me Desmarais alléguait que les défendeurs avaient porté atteinte à sa réputation et qu'ils avaient tenu des propos diffamatoires. De son côté, M. Vailles s'est défendu en expliquant qu'il bénéficiait d'une immunité, puisqu'il avait simplement rapporté le témoignage du juricomptable de l'AMF, François Filion, entendu lors du procès qui opposait l'AMF à Me Desmarais. De plus, les défendeurs se sont portés demandeurs reconventionnels à l'encontre de Me Desmarais, alléguant que sa demande était abusive.

L'immunité de la Loi sur la presse

Concernant les allégations de diffamation, la Cour a résumé la question en se demandant si les défendeurs étaient bénéficiaires d'une immunité en vertu de la Loi sur la presse et en s'interrogeant sur l'étendue de l'obligation, pour un journaliste, de vérifier la véracité des faits rapportés. En se basant sur l'arrêt Groupe Québecor Inc. c. Cimon, elle a retenu qu'un journaliste peut décider de produire un article après une journée particulière d'un débat judiciaire. Cependant, celui-ci doit satisfaire aux critères prononcés par la Cour d'appel dans l'arrêt Cimon, c'est-à-dire « a) que l'article a paru dans un journal suivant le sens que lui donne l'article 1 de la Loi sur la presse, b) que les faits ont été rapportés exactement et de bonne foi et c) que l'article concerne les rapports de séances des tribunaux pourvu qu'elles ne soient pas tenues à huis clos et qu'ils soient fidèles ».

La Cour a également ajouté que le journaliste n'était pas tenu de s'assurer de la véracité des faits énoncés, puisque « [s]on obligation consistait à rapporter les faits exactement et de bonne foi, sans pour autant être soumis au carcan du mot à mot ».

L'abus de procédure de l'avocat

Concernant l'abus de procédure, la Cour supérieure a conclu que la demande de Me Desmarais avait pour but premier de museler M. Vailles, puisque le recours était voué à l'échec pour plusieurs raisons, notamment parce que M. Vailles avait rapporté fidèlement les paroles de M. Filion, le juricomptable, et que les défendeurs « bénéficiaient de la protection du privilège qui est engagé lorsqu'on rapporte sur les procédures judiciaires et l'immunité qui en résulte ». Voilà le constat que Me Desmarais aurait dû faire lui-même, selon la Cour, surtout après que la Cour du Québec l'ait reconnu coupable à l'issue du procès sur lequel portaient les articles en litige, ou encore lorsque la Cour supérieure, en appel, s'est prononcée sur sa culpabilité et sur sa sentence.

Pour appuyer ses conclusions, la Cour supérieure a fait état du modus operandi de Me Desmarais. En plus d'intenter une action en diffamation contre l'AMF, il avait déposé une plainte privée contre le juricomptable M. Filion au Conseil de discipline. En appel, le Tribunal des professions a conclu que ce n'était « pas un hasard » si Me Desmarais échouait « à toutes les étapes de sa démarche », qui était « teintée d'entêtement et d'une volonté de règlement de compte à l'endroit de l'intimé ». D'où le caractère frivole et abusif.

C'est donc en raison de plusieurs facteurs, dont les autres recours en diffamation qu'il a intentés envers les autres acteurs de ce grand débat et l'acharnement dont il a fait preuve que son recours a été jugé abusif. Il est certain que sa connaissance approfondie de la loi, en tant qu'avocat, qui aurait dû lui permettre d'apprécier convenablement ses chances de succès, milite en faveur de la thèse voulant qu'il ne cherchait qu'à museler M. Vailles et ainsi limiter la liberté d'expression et détourner les fins de la justice.

  • La Cour supérieure conclut en réservant les droits de La Presse et de M. Vailles de s'adresser au Tribunal pour établir le quantum de leurs dommages résultant de l'abus de M. Desmarais.
    D'ailleurs, au moment d'écrire ces lignes, le délai d'appel n'était pas écoulé. Il est donc possible que le jugement soit porté en appel. Ce serait une belle occasion pour la Cour d'appel de faire siennes les conclusions de la Cour supérieure sur le sujet.

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