A true statement can be defamatory, but it is defensible if the truth can be proved in court
This article is part of a series addressing popular topics for lawyers and questions that clients and the public may have about the legal profession.
In today’s social media era, the risk of defamation is more prevalent and damaging as information can be shared globally in seconds, and Ryder Gilliland, a partner at DMG Advocates LLP, says defamation refers to any statement made in writing or verbally that would lower another person’s reputation in the minds of others.
Types of defamation
Defamation includes libel, which applies to defamatory statements published in writing and slander, which means defamatory comments spoken verbally, and Gilliland says it is often harder to prove slander than libel because there is a written record of a libel but not of a slander.
Gilliland says Ontario’s defamation laws protect an individual’s reputation from damage, but there must be evidence of the defaming statements made to third parties. In addition, civil actions for defamation are more common than criminal prosecutions.
“Once the plaintiff proves that a defamatory statement was made, the onus shifts to the defendant to defend.”
Can defamation be true?
A true statement can be defamatory because it lowers another person’s reputation, but Gilliland says truth is an absolute defence to a libel claim, and though a true statement can be defamatory, it is justifiable if the truth can be proved in court.
“People should be aware that freedom of speech is a constitutionally protected right and it is usually very hard for a plaintiff to succeed in a defamation claim and even if they do, general damages for defamation tend to be low in relative terms.”
Legal time limit to make a defamation claim
Many defamation claims have a standard limitation period of two years. However, Gilliland says in Ontario that defamation arising from a newspaper or broadcast as defined in the Libel and Slander Act must be brought within three months and cannot be effected unless a libel notice within six weeks of discovering the defamatory statements is served to the publication.
Costs involved in a defamation suit
All litigation is expensive, and defamation cases are no exception; thus, Gilliland says it is possible to combat defamation without legal fees by correcting the public record through the same medium that made the defamatory statement.