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CRIMINAL CODE OFFENCES - Corruption and disobedience - Disobeying a court order

Wednesday, December 11, 2019 @ 8:43 AM  


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Appeal by the accused from conviction for criminal contempt for breaching court orders made in connection with the administration of a bankruptcy. The orders enjoined the appellant and others from publishing disparaging or defamatory statements about the Trustee, counsel for the Trustee, or any other person or entity connected to the administration of this bankruptcy. The statements forming the basis for the allegation of criminal contempt were contained in two blogs containing extensive information about the bankruptcy, comments about the trustee in bankruptcy, its legal counsel, justices of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, some of whom made orders in the bankruptcy proceedings, and other persons alleged in the blog posts to be connected to the bankruptcy. The appellant argued the trial judge erred in her interpretation of the orders and by concluding the orders were sufficiently clear to form the basis of a finding of criminal contempt and in concluding that truth was not available as a defence for criminal contempt.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. While the judge did err in interpreting the orders to prohibit the appellant from publishing disparaging or defamatory statements about judges, as they were not connected to the administration of the bankruptcy, that error did not affect the disposition of the appeal. The orders were sufficiently clear to form the basis of a finding of criminal contempt. The appellant was not required to look beyond the four corners of the orders to know that he was enjoined from publishing negative statements about specific persons or entities that were unquestionably connected to the administration of the bankruptcy and were identified in one of the orders on which the allegation of criminal contempt was founded. The term “disparaging” as used in the orders was not ambiguous. The judge did not err by concluding that truth was not an available defence to criminal contempt in the circumstances. The orders did not provide an exception for truth or any other justification or defence. They did not prohibit the tort of defamation, but rather the publication of any kind which expressed any disparaging or defamatory statements. The fact that the appellant believed he would be able to raise the defence of truth, or that others might misunderstand legal principles about defamation did not make the order vague or ambiguous. It was the character of a statement that made a statement defamatory, not its falsity. The appellant was convicted for violating the clear and unambiguous terms of a court order and not for committing the tort of defamation.

R. v. Dhillon, [2019] B.C.J. No. 2041, British Columbia Court of Appeal, D.M. Smith, D.C. Harris and G.B. Butler JJ.A., October 30, 2019. Digest No. TLD-December92019009