Canadian Court Orders Blogger Who Reposted Another Writer's Defamatory Statements To Pay $10,000 To Defamed Party
from the hooray-for-secondary-liability! dept
Here’s a not-so-gentle reminder that Canada’s defamation laws are significantly different than those in the United States. A former Senate staffer is on the hook for $10,000 in damages for “publishing” a defamatory article on his website back in 2009. The thing is: it wasn’t his article.
In 2008… Jonathan Kay, then a National Post columnist, published an article that repeated allegations that [human rights advocate Richard] Warman was the author of an article posted to a right-wing website that contained “misogynist” and “racist” comments about Anne Cools, the first black Canadian appointed to the Senate.
Warman served a libel notice on Kay and the National Post, which was later settled after Kay and the Post retracted the article.
But Kay’s article was republished by others, including [Michael] Veck, who posted it to a website knows as WAIS (the World Association for International Studies) as part of a longer article that characterized Warman as a “radical anti-racist” who had tried to manufacture “phoney-racism,” Corbett writes.
Veck testified that he didn’t know the article had been retracted when he posted it to his site. After being served with a libel notice by Warman, Veck apologized for posting the false article and took it down, noting that Warman claimed it contained “false allegations.”
That should have been the end of it, but Warman pressed on with his lawsuit. And the presiding judge apparently felt Veck’s apology just wasn’t obsequious enough.
“The substance of Mr. Veck’s retraction is that, because Mr. Warman disagrees with the article, Mr. Veck is withdrawing it,” the judge wrote. “This substance falls short of acknowledging that the article was without foundation.”
So, Veck gets a bill for $10,000 while others who did the same thing were able to escape with nothing more than the loss of a little dignity.
Warman said several others who republished the allegations in Kay’s column, including conservative writer Ezra Levant, have recently retracted them and apologized.
Veck didn’t make these defamatory allegations himself and yet he is being held responsible for the words of others. That’s because Canadian law doesn’t consider the originator of the false claims to be the sole responsible party. The law considers “publication” to be an essential ingredient in libel suits and Veck’s re-posting of the National Post article opened him up to liability, even if all he did was quote someone else’s statements, word-for-word.
Now, as Mike noted back when Warman began filing these lawsuits, the implications of the law were troubling, especially as it could be construed to read that simply linking to defamatory material was itself defamation. A Canadian court determined later that linking was not defamatory but did point out that if the link text itself contained any defamatory material, the linking party could be held liable.
In this case, Veck basically republished an entire article, which as the courts have read the law, make him just as liable for the defamation as the person who actually wrote the article. Veck is a “publisher” in the eyes of the law, even if he truly didn’t “publish” anything in the more traditional sense of the word. (As in not being the originating party.) And with that prong of the law satisfied, Veck is as culpable as if he’d written the statements himself.