Libel Law is Dangerous

The libel law in Ontario makes it possible to sue over everything from a slur to a song, from an assault on a person’s character to a well–documented report on a public corporation’s misbehaviour. There is no definition of libel. There is no definition of a reputation and what it is worth. There are no guidelines as to which complaints are trivial and which are worth the court’s time....

Libel practitioners often create a swamp of pre–trial motions and manoeuvres designed to avoid the issues at hand and to complicate and prolong the process. A person of modest means cannot afford to seek redress under the libel law from a major publisher or broadcaster. Similarly, a small– or medium–sized publisher cannot withstand the onslaught of a wealthy plaintiff...

Ontario does not need this libel law. Even if it were struck down from the statute books, individuals would still be able to use the courts to protect their reputations. Ontario has another law against malicious falsehood. This law allowed people to sue if they are damaged by the publication of a lie. That is what any good libel law should do.

No democratic society needs a law that punishes openness, restricts inquiry into truth to the courtroom, assumes that writers are malicious and plaintiffs are injured simply because someone has said that someone else doesn’t like.

This article appeared in The Connexion Digest #54, February 1992.

From a brief entitled A Dangerous Silence, written by Writers to Reform the Libel Law



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