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Two rulings revamp Canadian libel laws

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  1. Libel and Privacy
Canada's highest court upended the country's libel laws last week with a pair of decisions that will strengthen freedom of…

Canada’s highest court upended the country’s libel laws last week with a pair of decisions that will strengthen freedom of speech.

The rulings established a "responsible journalism" defense that protects reporters sued for libel whose stories were in the public interest, The Canadian Press reported.

In the first case, The Toronto Star was saved from paying $1 million in punitive damages — one of the largest awards in Canadian libel history — over a story detailing controversial plans for a new golf course. In the other case, a $135,000 verdict against the Ottawa Citizen was overturned over a story about a former police officer who misrepresented himself at Ground Zero, The Globe and Mail reported.

Advocates say the two rulings effectively revamp Canadian libel law to protect reporters — and extends the same protection to Internet journalists.

The ruling “is hugely important; the most important libel decision ever released by the Supreme Court. It is a victory for the right to speak responsibly about public matters – to put issues to the public and let the public debate and decide,” Paul Schabas, a lawyer for the Star, told The Globe and Mail.