Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Toronto Star to appeal $1.5 M libel award

The Star reports today that it will appeal the recent judgment against it in favour of Northern Ontario businessman Peter Grant, over a 2001 story that implied Grant was exploiting his friendship with then-Premier Mike Harris to ease approval of a golf course expansion:

Grant's lawyer, Peter Downard, declined comment, except to say: "We will fully respond to the appeal at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way."

In its notice of appeal, the Star argues that [Superior Court Justice Paul] Rivard erred in not allowing the defence of "qualified privilege," in which media are given wide latitude to publish controversial opinions on matters of substantial public interest.

Further, the judge was wrong in failing to find that there was no probability that the Star acted with malice, according to the appeal.

Rivard also made numerous other mistakes in his charge to the jury, both in his instructions on the law and in his summary of the evidence, the newspaper says.

The plaintiffs contended that one quote, by cottager Lorrie Clark, was particularly libellous: "Everyone thinks it's a done deal because of Grant's influence ... but most of all his Mike Harris ties."

The judge should have instructed the jury that these words could only be regarded as a statement of opinion, not fact, the Star says.

The judge also failed to adequately instruct jurors on the legal principles to apply in considering damages, including the exceptional nature of aggravated and punitive damages, according to the appeal notice.

The jury of three men and three women awarded Grant $25,000 in aggravated damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

The jury also awarded $450,000 in general damages.

The total, $1.475 million, was one of the highest libel awards in Canadian history.

1 comment:

Mark Francis said...

A problem with libel law is that it at times assumes that readers of newspapers are idiots.

Another problem is that our laws still don't recognize that there are people of public interest and that some speculative publishing about them is reasonable. This is what The Star means by appealing to allow a defense of 'qualified priviledge.'

It's a difficult slope, to be sure, but libel law is used often to intimidate, and that needs to end. A recent study by UBC found that of all libel cases thatwent through trial, only 10% were found in favour of the plaintiff. That tells us that many plaintiff are pushing cases that can't win, which tells us that libel law is likely being used to intimidate.