Don't Speak Your Mind In British Columbia — Even At Home
from the travesty-of-justice dept
Just a warning if you live in British Columbia: you might not want to express your opinion out loud, ever. Even if you’re at home. Jon R writes in with a somewhat horrifying story of a man in British Columbia who has been found guilty of defamation for a private conversation he was goaded into, at home, which was secretly recorded. Defamation laws (for libel and slander) were designed to stop the public presentment of false information, traditionally through some sort of media property. It certainly was never intended to be used for the random comments made privately at home.
In this case, a developer was annoyed that residents in one of the developments where he owned the water and sewage rights were complaining about the way he operated. So, he hired a private detective to pretend to be a potential homebuyer in the neighborhood. The detective knocked on the door of Jack and Judy Aasen and asked about the neighborhood. They, being friendly people, invited him in and had a nice discussion with him, pointing out that they liked the neighborhood very much, and the “only problem” was dealing with the guy who owned the utility, Brad Chapman, who was about to tear up their yard and cut back on their sewage service. The Aasens were upset that they had no choice to switch to another provider and that they had no say in stopping their lawn from being torn up. Jack jokingly referred to Chapman as “a prick” and said he “kind of makes the suggestion that he’s got the mayor in his pocket.” During this conversation with a guy they thought was just a friendly potential new neighbor, the detective was actually recording the whole thing.
Aasen and three others got charged with defamation for this, and the amazing thing is that the court agreed — specifically on the comment about the mayor being in his pocket. Even that seems pretty questionable, though, since Aasen never said the mayor was actually in the guy’s pocket, only that Chapman himself “kind of makes the suggestion” of that. To then charge the guy with defamation for that statement seems like a huge stretch. But, much more troublesome is this idea that you could go into someone’s home, misrepresenting yourself, secretly record the conversation while coaxing the people you’re talking to to say something negative about someone else… and get them found guilty of defamation for it.