Originally published in Blakes Bulletin on Litigation,
In what is perhaps the most significant decision in Canadian
defamation law, the Supreme Court of Canada today recognized a new
defence of "public interest responsible communication" in
Grant v. Torstar Corporation
This defence will protect statements of fact on matters of public
interest, even if the defendant cannot prove the statements
published were true, provided the defendant can "show that
publication was responsible, in that he or she was diligent in
trying to verify the allegation(s), having regard to all the
The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the Ontario Court of
Appeal's decision overturning a jury verdict against the
Toronto Star that had awarded C$1.475-million in damages
to a northern Ontario businessman and his private corporation for
Peter Grant had sued the Toronto Star over an article
written by investigative journalist Bill Schiller in June 2001,
which detailed the concerns of Grant's neighbours regarding his
proposed private golf course development on Crown land by a lake in
northern Ontario. The article also discussed Mr. Grant's
connections to the provincial Progressive Conservative Party and
then premier Mike Harris.
The Supreme Court has named the new defence "public
interest responsible communication" to reflect that the
defence is available not just to the press, but "to anyone who
publishes material of public interest in any medium."
The Supreme Court agreed with the submissions made by Blakes on
behalf of the Toronto Star that "the current law with respect
to statements that are reliable and important to public debate does
not give adequate weight to the constitutional value of free
expression." The court agreed that the traditional law of
defamation too greatly favoured protection of reputation, stating
that "defamation lawsuits, real or threatened, should not be a
weapon by which the wealthy and privileged stifle the information
and debate essential to a free society."
As the trial judge failed to leave the defence of "public
interest responsible communication" to the jury, and as he
made other errors in instructing the jury, the Supreme Court
ordered a new trial.
The respondents were represented by a team from Blakes led by
Paul Schabas and including Erin Hoult and Iris Fischer. Blakes
Media Group has the leading lawyers in the field. It regularly acts
for newspapers, broadcasters and publishers on defamation and
related matters, at trials, on appeals and before the Supreme Court
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