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DEFAMATION - Power of appeal court to interfere with damage award

Wednesday, January 09, 2019 @ 8:13 AM  

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Appeal by Canwest from an order of damages awarded to the respondent for defamation. Cross-appeal by the respondent from the partial dismissal of his defamation claim. The appellants published a newspaper article about the respondent, then a member of Parliament, that contained allegations of unpaid debts, improper campaign spending and unsuccessful business ventures. The trial judge found the appellants were protected by the defence of responsible communication for all but one paragraph of the impugned article, which related to a loan allegedly made to the respondent by his mother-in-law shortly before her death. She found the reporter had not investigated the deathbed loan in a responsible fashion and awarded $125,000 in damages against the appellants.

HELD: Appeal allowed; cross-appeal dismissed. The trial judge erred by applying the defence of responsible communication separately to different portions of the article, rather than to the article as a whole. The statement about the deathbed loan related to the essential thrust of the article, being that the respondent was unfit to serve as a member of Parliament. When the article was considered as a whole, the appellants were entitled to succeed on the defence of responsible communication. The trial judge did not err in concluding that publication of the article was in the public interest or in failing to consider all relevant factors in assessing the appellants’ responsibility in publishing the article. The respondent’s defamation claim was dismissed.

Lougheed Estate v. Wilson, [2018] B.C.J. No. 3725, British Columbia Court of Appeal, M.E. Saunders, D.F. Tysoe and H. Groberman JJ.A., November 27, 2018. Digest No. TLD-January72019005