Supreme Court Decision Strengthens Canada's Free Press
A recent Supreme Court Decision gives more protection to journalists. The New York Times applauded the decision in an editorial yesterday. The Times writes: "Libel law in Canada has long been heavily tilted against the news media. It has been far too easy for corporations and rich individuals in Canada to sue over news reports they do not like. Canadian journalists have had to worry far more than their American counterparts about being hit with large damage awards," the Times writes.
Last month, the Canadian Supreme Court changed the rules. One of the cases involved a lawsuit by a forestry executive who won a judgment of about $1.5 million against The Toronto Star, a newspaper that published an article suggesting that he had used political connections to get approval for a golf course expansion.
The Supreme Court ruled that the judgment against the newspaper was improper because it had failed to give adequate weight to the value of freedom of expression. The court announced a new defense of “responsible communication on matters of public interest.” Journalists and other speakers can avoid liability, the court ruled, if they can show that the information they communicated — whether it turned out to be true or false — was of public interest and they were diligent in trying to verify it.
In the second case, a lawsuit by a former Ontario police officer against The Ottawa Citizen newspaper, the court reached a similar result. It reversed a jury award of $100,000 to the officer, who objected to the newspaper’s reports that claimed he had misrepresented his search-and-rescue work at ground zero in New York City after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In its opinions, the Supreme Court recognized the importance of free speech and a robust news media to a functioning democracy. That is good news for Canadians and all people who respect and value Canada’s press.