Media commentators can freely express honest opinions without the looming fear of a defamation suit, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Friday.
In a ruling The Globe and Mail said "modernizes the [defense] of fair comment," the court held that Vancouver radio talk show host Rafe Mair could not be held liable for damaging the reputation of conservative anti-gay parenting advocate Kari Simpson, since he simply expressed an honest belief.
The nearly decade-old case stems from a 1999 radio CKNW broadcast in which Mair, a former Social Credit cabinet minister, compared Simpson’s views denouncing homosexuality to the bigotry of Nazi Germany and the Ku Klux Klan. Simpson, who publicly supported a Surrey school board decision to ban books portraying same-sex parents, claimed Mair implied she would condone violence against gay people.
Justice Ian Binnie, however, feared that forcing publishers and journalists to face defamation suits for expressing opinions could chill the reporting of matters of public interest.
The court found that provocative commentary can be central to public debate, and that even satirists, cartoonists and other entertainers have a “democratic right to poke fun at those who huff and puff in the public arena.”
Binnie said the key to the “fair comment” defense invoked by Mair is whether an honest person examining the facts could have held the same opinion.