Hill v Church of Scientology 2 SCR 1130 (1995): Barrister held a press conference on the courthouse steps. Unfounded allegations of criminal contempt made against the crown attorney. Whether the common law of defamation is consistent with the Canadian Charter.

Appellant, Barrister for the appellant Church of Scientology held a press conference on the courthouse steps. Allegations of criminal contempt against the crown attorney were made public including that he had misled a judge and breached orders sealing documents belonging to the church. The allegations were found to be untrue and without foundation. Respondent sued for damages in libel. The major issues raised in this appeal are whether the common law of defamation is consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and whether the jury’s award of damages can stand.

A consideration of the common law of defamation in light of the values underlying the Charter.

The ‘actual malice’ rule should not be adopted in Canada in an action between private litigants, (as established in New York v Sullivan 376 US 254 (1964) as per Brennan J: public officials have actions only for defamatory statements made ‘with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not’. The law of defamation is not unduly restrictive or inhibiting. Freedom of speech, like any other freedom, is subject to the law and must be balanced against the essential need of individuals to protect their reputation.

Qualified privilege attaches to the occasion upon which the communication is made, and not to the communication itself. The legal effect of the defense of qualified privilege is to rebut the inference, which normally arises from the publication of defamatory words, that they were spoken with malice. Where the occasion is shown to be privileged, the bona fides of the defendant is presumed and the defendant is free to publish, with impunity, remarks which may be defamatory and untrue about the plaintiff. The privilege is not absolute and can be defeated if the dominant motive for publishing the statement is actual or express malice. Malice is commonly understood, in the popular sense, as spite or ill-will. However it also includes any indirect motive or ulterior purpose that conflicts with the sense of duty or the mutual interest which the occasion created. Malice may also be established by showing that the defendant spoke dishonestly, or in knowing or reckless disregard for the truth. Qualified privilege may also be defeated when the limits of the duty or interest have been exceeded. The fact that an occasion is privileged does not necessarily protect all that is said or written on that occasion. The information communicated must be reasonably appropriate in the context of the circumstances existing on the occasion when that information was given.

The traditional common law rule with respect to reports on documents (filed in or referred to in court) relating to judicial proceedings is that, where there are judicial proceedings before a properly constituted judicial tribunal exercising its jurisdiction in open court, then the publication is privileged. Appellant failed to take steps to confirm the allegations thus losing his qualified privilege when he made grievous allegations of professional misconduct that were yet to be tested in a court of law. His conduct was high-handed and careless and neither necessary nor appropriate in the circumstances. It exceeded any legitimate purpose the press conference may have served.

The Nature of Actions for Defamation: The Values to Be Balanced: There can be no doubt that in libel cases the twin values of reputation and freedom of expression will clash. As Edgerton J. stated in Sweeney v. Patterson, 128 F.2d 457 (D.C. Cir. 1942), at p. 458, cert. denied 317 U.S. 678 (1942), whatever is "added to the field of libel is taken from the field of free debate". The real question, however, is whether the common law strikes an appropriate balance between the two (par 100):

Freedom of Expression: Much has been written of the great importance of free speech. Without this freedom to express ideas and to criticize the operation of institutions and the conduct of individual members of government agencies, democratic forms of government would wither and die. See, for example, Reference re Alberta Statutes, [1938] S.C.R. 100, at p. 133; Switzman v. Elbling, [1957] S.C.R. 285, at p. 306; and Boucher v. The King, [1951] S.C.R. 265, at p. 326. More recently, in Edmonton Journal, supra, at p. 1336, it was said:

It is difficult to imagine a guaranteed right more important to a democratic society than freedom of expression. Indeed a democracy cannot exist without that freedom to express new ideas and to put forward opinions about the functioning of public institutions. The concept of free and uninhibited speech permeates all truly democratic societies and institutions. The vital importance of the concept cannot be over-emphasized.

However, freedom of expression has never been recognized as an absolute right. Duff C.J. emphasized this point in Reference re Alberta Statutes, supra, at p. 133:

The right of public discussion is, of course, subject to legal restrictions; those based upon considerations of decency and public order, and others conceived for the protection of various private and public interests with which, for example, the laws of defamation and sedition are concerned. In a word, freedom of discussion means . . . "freedom governed by law."

See also Cherneskey v. Armadale Publishers Ltd., [1979] 1 S.C.R. 1067, at pp. 1072 and 1091.

Similar reasoning has been applied in cases argued under the Charter. Although a Charter right is defined broadly, generally without internal limits, the Charter recognizes, under s. 1, that social values will at times conflict and that some limits must be placed even on fundamental rights. As La Forest J. explained in United States of America v. Cotroni, [1989] 1 S.C.R. 1469, at p. 1489, this Court has adopted a flexible approach to measuring the constitutionality of impugned provisions wherein "the underlying values [of the Charter] must be sensitively weighed in a particular context against other values of a free and democratic society . . .".(103)

In R. v. Keegstra, [1990] 3 S.C.R. 697, for example, s. 319(2) of the Criminal Code was found to be justified as a reasonable limit on the appellant's freedom to spread falsehoods relating to the Holocaust and thus to promote hatred against an identifiable group. Dickson C.J. adopted the contextual approach to s. 1 and concluded that, since hate propaganda contributed little to the values which underlie the right enshrined under s. 2(b), namely the quest for truth, the promotion of individual self-development, and participation in the community, a restriction on this type of expression might be easier to justify than would be the case with other kinds of expression (104).

In R. v. Butler, [1992] 1 S.C.R. 452, the obscenity provisions of the Criminal Code, s. 163, were questioned. It was held, under the s. 1 analysis, that pornography could not stand on an equal footing with other kinds of expression which directly engage the "core" values of freedom of expression. Further, it was found that the fact that the targeted material was expression motivated by economic profit more readily justified the imposition of restrictions (105).

Certainly, defamatory statements are very tenuously related to the core values which underlie s. 2(b). They are inimical to the search for truth. False and injurious statements cannot enhance self-development. Nor can it ever be said that they lead to healthy participation in the affairs of the community. Indeed, they are detrimental to the advancement of these values and harmful to the interests of a free and democratic society. This concept was accepted in Globe and Mail Ltd. v. Boland, [1960] S.C.R. 203, at pp. 208-9, where it was held that an extension of the qualified privilege to the publication of defamatory statements concerning the fitness for office of a candidate for election would be "harmful to that `common convenience and welfare of society'". Reliance was placed upon the text Gatley on Libel and Slander in a Civil Action: With Precedents of Pleadings (4th ed. 1953), at p. 254, wherein the author stated the following:

It would tend to deter sensitive and honorable men from seeking public positions of trust and responsibility, and leave them open to others who have no respect for their reputation.

See also Derrickson v. Tomat (1992), 88 D.L.R. (4th) 401 (B.C.C.A.), at p. 408.

(ii)The Reputation of the Individual

The other value to be balanced in a defamation action is the protection of the reputation of the individual. Although much has very properly been said and written about the importance of freedom of expression, little has been written of the importance of reputation. Yet, to most people, their good reputation is to be cherished above all. A good reputation is closely related to the innate worthiness and dignity of the individual. It is an attribute that must, just as much as freedom of expression, be protected by society's laws. In order to undertake the balancing required by this case, something must be said about the value of reputation (107).

Democracy has always recognized and cherished the fundamental importance of an individual. That importance must, in turn, be based upon the good repute of a person. It is that good repute which enhances an individual's sense of worth and value. False allegations can so very quickly and completely destroy a good reputation. A reputation tarnished by libel can seldom regain its former lustre. A democratic society, therefore, has an interest in ensuring that its members can enjoy and protect their good reputation so long as it is merited (108).

Though the law of defamation no longer serves as a bulwark against the duel and blood feud, the protection of reputation remains of vital importance. As David Lepofsky suggests in "Making Sense of the Libel Chill Debate: Do Libel Laws `Chill' the Exercise of Freedom of Expression?" (1994), 4 N.J.C.L. 169, at p. 197, reputation is the "fundamental foundation on which people are able to interact with each other in social environments". At the same time, it serves the equally or perhaps more fundamentally important purpose of fostering our self-image and sense of self-worth. This sentiment was eloquently expressed by Stewart J. in Rosenblatt v. Baer, 383 U.S. 75 (1966), who stated at p. 92:

The right of a man to the protection of his own reputation from unjustified invasion and wrongful hurt reflects no more than our basic concept of the essential dignity and worth of every human being -- a concept at the root of any decent system of ordered liberty (117).

Although it is not specifically mentioned in the Charter, the good reputation of the individual represents and reflects the innate dignity of the individual, a concept which underlies all the Charter rights. It follows that the protection of the good reputation of an individual is of fundamental importance to our democratic society (120).

Further, reputation is intimately related to the right to privacy which has been accorded constitutional protection. As La Forest J. wrote in R. v. Dyment, [1988] 2 S.C.R. 417, at p. 427, privacy, including informational privacy, is "[g]rounded in man's physical and moral autonomy" and "is essential for the well-being of the individual". The publication of defamatory comments constitutes an invasion of the individual's personal privacy and is an affront to that person's dignity. The protection of a person's reputation is indeed worthy of protection in our democratic society and must be carefully balanced against the equally important right of freedom of expression. In order to undertake the requisite balancing of values, let us first review the change to the existing common law proposed by the appellants.

(e)Conclusion: Should the Law of Defamation be Modified by Incorporating the Sullivan Principle?

 

137 The New York Times v. Sullivan decision has been criticized by judges and academic writers in the United States and elsewhere. It has not been followed in the United Kingdom or Australia. I can see no reason for adopting it in Canada in an action between private litigants. The law of defamation is essentially aimed at the prohibition of the publication of injurious false statements. It is the means by which the individual may protect his or her reputation which may well be the most distinguishing feature of his or her character, personality and, perhaps, identity. I simply cannot see that the law of defamation is unduly restrictive or inhibiting. Surely it is not requiring too much of individuals that they ascertain the truth of the allegations they publish. The law of defamation provides for the defences of fair comment and of qualified privilege in appropriate cases. Those who publish statements should assume a reasonable level of responsibility.

138 The Canadian Daily Newspaper Association indicated, in its response to A Consultation Draft of the General Limitations Act (September 1991) at p. 3, that the law of libel is a "carefully-crafted regime" which has "functioned fairly for the media and for complainants for many years". Freedom of speech, like any other freedom, is subject to the law and must be balanced against the essential need of the individuals to protect their reputation. The words of Diplock J. in Silkin v. Beaverbrook Newspapers Ltd., [1958] 1 W.L.R. 743, at pp. 745-46, are worth repeating:

Freedom of speech, like the other fundamental freedoms, is freedom under the law, and over the years the law has maintained a balance between, on the one hand, the right of the individual . . . whether he is in public life or not, to his unsullied reputation if he deserves it, and on the other hand . . . the right of the public . . .to express their views honestly and fearlessly on matters of public interest, even though that involves strong criticism of the conduct of public people.

139 None of the factors which prompted the United States Supreme Court to rewrite the law of defamation in America are present in the case at bar. First, this appeal does not involve the media or political commentary about government policies. Thus the issues considered by the High Court of Australia in Theophanous, supra, are also not raised in this case and need not be considered.

140 Second, a review of jury verdicts in Canada reveals that there is no danger of numerous large awards threatening the viability of media organizations. Finally, in Canada there is no broad privilege accorded to the public statements of government officials which needs to be counterbalanced by a similar right for private individuals.

141 In conclusion, in its application to the parties in this action, the common law of defamation complies with the underlying values of the Charter and there is no need to amend or alter it.

142 Consideration must now be given to the submission made on behalf of Morris Manning that the defence of qualified privilege should be expanded to include reports upon pleadings and court documents that have been filed or are at the point of being filed.

(f)Should the Common Law Defence of Qualified Privilege be Expanded to Comply with Charter Values?

143 Qualified privilege attaches to the occasion upon which the communication is made, and not to the communication itself. 144 The legal effect of the defence of qualified privilege is to rebut the inference, which normally arises from the publication of defamatory words, that they were spoken with malice. Where the occasion is shown to be privileged, the bona fides of the defendant is presumed and the defendant is free to publish, with impunity, remarks which may be defamatory and untrue about the plaintiff. However, the privilege is not absolute and can be defeated if the dominant motive for publishing the statement is actual or express malice. See Horrocks v. Lowe, [1975] A.C. 135 (H.L.), at p. 149.

145 Malice is commonly understood, in the popular sense, as spite or ill-will. However, it also includes, as Dickson J. (as he then was) pointed out in dissent in Cherneskey, supra, at p. 1099, "any indirect motive or ulterior purpose" that conflicts with the sense of duty or the mutual interest which the occasion created. See, also, Taylor v. Despard, [1956] O.R. 963 (C.A.). Malice may also be established by showing that the defendant spoke dishonestly, or in knowing or reckless disregard for the truth. See McLoughlin, supra, at pp. 323-24, and Netupsky v. Craig, [1973] S.C.R. 55, at pp. 61-62.

146 Qualified privilege may also be defeated when the limits of the duty or interest have been exceeded. See The Law of Defamation in Canada, supra, at pp. 13-193 and 13-194; Salmond and Heuston on the Law of Torts (20th ed. 1992), at pp. 166-67. As Loreburn E. stated at pp. 320-21 in Adam v. Ward,

supra:

. . . the fact that an occasion is privileged does not necessarily protect all that is said or written on that occasion. Anything that is not relevant and pertinent to the discharge of the duty or the exercise of the right or the safeguarding of the interest which creates the privilege will not be protected.

147 In other words, the information communicated must be reasonably appropriate in the context of the circumstances existing on the occasion when that information was given. For example, in Douglas v. Tucker, [1952] 1 S.C.R. 275, the defendant, during an election campaign, stated that the plaintiff, who was the officer of an investment company, had charged a farmer and his wife an exorbitant rate of interest causing them to lose their property. The plaintiff maintained that the allegation was without foundation. In response, the defendant asserted that the plaintiff was facing a charge of fraud which had been adjourned until after the election. This Court held that the defendant had an interest in responding to the plaintiff's denial, thereby giving rise to an occasion of qualified privilege. However, it ruled that the occasion was exceeded because the defendant's comments went beyond what was "germane and reasonably appropriate" (p. 286).

148 In Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada v. Dalrymple, [1965] S.C.R. 302, the district manager of the defendant insurance company threatened to resign and take the district agents with him. This Court held that it fell within the scope of the privilege for the company to make certain defamatory comments about the plaintiff in order to dissuade its agents from leaving.

152 In Edmonton Journal, supra, at pp. 1338-40, I noted that the public scrutiny of our courts by the press was fundamentally important in our democratic society and that s. 2(b) protected not only speakers, but listeners as well. This right to report on court proceedings extended to pleadings and court documents filed before trial, since access to these documents served the same societal needs as reporting on trials. Even in private actions, such as those for wrongful dismissal or for personal damages, the public may well have an interest in knowing the kinds of submissions which can be put forward.

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