A former senior Conservative Senate staffer who reposted a defamatory statement about Ottawa human rights lawyer Richard Warman has been ordered to pay $10,000 in damages.
In a decision issued by the Ontario Superior Court July 30, Justice David Corbett ordered Michael Veck to pay Warman the money after finding Veck had no legal defence for posting an article about him that was “obviously defamatory.”
However, on July 31, a bankruptcy trustee for Veck wrote to Warman’s lawyer and the court providing a notice of stay of proceedings, indicating all legal actions were stayed.
“I’ve asked the trustee to immediately withdraw the notice of stay of proceedings and am reviewing the information provided to determine my next steps,” Warman told Legal Feeds via e-mail Tuesday.
Warman added he intends to pursue the $10,000 libel judgment and costs “to the fullest extent possible.”
The case arises in the context of a debate over the relationship between laws against hate speech and the principles of freedom of speech. Warman is an advocate against far-right and neo-Nazi hate speech.
In March 2009, Veck republished an article first published by the National Post and written by former columnist Jonathan Kay about Warman that was untrue. Warman says the article was posted to a Stanford University web site forum catering to leaders in politics, academia, the military, and journalism.
The original article by the National Post was retracted after Warman issued a libel notice.
Both Kay and the newspaper subsequently settled a libel action against them. Veck republished the article more than a year after the newspaper removed it from its web site.
In his decision, Corbett wrote:
“I find the impugned article posted by Mr. Veck is defamatory of Mr. Warman. I find that Mr. Veck has no legal defence for publishing this defamatory article. . . .”
Corbett went on to say a message Veck posted as a retraction and apology on the same web site “did not cure the damage caused by the defamatory article and should not serve to reduce damages awarded to Mr. Warman.”
Veck’s “apology” posted to the web site was as follows:
“I previously published material here that attacked the personal and professional reputations of Mr. Richard Warman. Mr. Richard Warman states that these allegations were false, and so I wish to retract them and apologize.”
Mr. Veck is not assisted in these defences by the fact that a substantial portion of his article was a repetition of Mr. Kay’s article in the National Post. A defendant cannot escape liability by publishing statements originally published by someone else. Put prosaically by Lord Denning fifty years ago:
“Our English law does not love tale-bearers. If the report or rumour was true, let him justify it. If it was not true, he ought not to have repeated it or aided in its circulation. He must answer for it just as if he had started it himself.”
In an e-mail exchange with Legal Feeds Veck confirmed he no longer works in Canadian politics, but declined to comment further on the matter.