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Canadian court asserts jurisdiction in case against Washington Post

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Canadian court asserts jurisdiction in case against Washington Post

  • An Ontario trial court asserted jurisdiction over a case brought by a Canadian citizen against the Post, even though the plaintiff didn’t live in the country when the allegedly defamatory articles were published.

March 3, 2004 — The Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Canada ruled last month that it has jurisdiction to hear a libel suit brought against The Washington Post Co. by a former United Nations official.

Cheickh Bangoura, former head of the U.N. Drug Control Program in Kenya, alleged that three online articles published by the Post in 1997 led to his dismissal. The articles contained allegations of “misconduct and mismanagement,” including sexual harassment, financial improprieties and nepotism.

A U.N. tribunal subsequently determined that there was no basis for the allegations and ordered the United Nations to apologize to Bangoura.

The Post had asked Justice Roman Pitt to dismiss the case, arguing that it should be brought in Washington, D.C., where the Web site is published. The company further argued that Bangoura did not have any “real and substantial” connection to Canada; he lived in Ontario only for the past two years.

Pitt rejected both arguments, holding on Jan. 27 that Bangoura was “an international public servant who has found a home and work in Ontario, where the damages to his reputation would have the greatest impact.”

Citing Dow Jones & Co. v. Gutnick — a 2002 libel case involving an online article from New York-based Barron‘s magazine over which an Australian trial court exercised jurisdiction — Pitt concluded that Ontario was an appropriate forum for the libel suit because the defamation had taken place there.

“Frankly, the defendants should have reasonably foreseen that the story would follow the plaintiff wherever he resided,” Pitt said. “I would be surprised if it were not insured for damages for libel or defamation anywhere in the world . . . and if it is not, then it should be.”

The Post also argued that a U.S. court would be unlikely to enforce any judgment rendered in the case, based on the countries’ differing legal standards. Pitt dismissed that point as well.

“Frankly, I see the unwillingness of an American court to enforce a Canadian libel judgment as an unfortunate expression of lack of comity,” he said. Comity is a court’s voluntary recognition of the laws and jurisdiction of another court.

“This should not be allowed to have an impact on Canadian values,” Pitt added.

Paul Schabas, an attorney for the Post, said the company is reviewing the ruling and considering whether to appeal, according to the Feb. 24 edition of the Media Law Reporter.

(Bangoura v. Washington Post, Media Counsel: Paul Schabas, Blake, Cassels & Graydon, Toronto) KM

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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