June 27, 2008
Levant on today’s big Supreme Court libel decision
Today’s decision by the Supreme Court of Canada about defamation law has shifted the balance from plaintiffs to defendants — in other words, towards greater free speech. The court calls it a modernization, which it is — phenomena like talk radio shows, partisan TV panels and the Internet were not around when defamation law was developing (it actually goes back 400 years). It also brings us more in synch with the U.S. approach to free speech, and breaks away from the European model of soft censorship.
In other words, it should terrify Canada’s human rights commissions. (…)
The decision doesn’t end defamation suits, of course. It merely moves the fulcrum a bit, by widening the scope of what constitutes “fair comment”. Fair comment must still be rooted in true facts; but if those facts are clear, and the defamer’s comments are clearly his own views, the court will give latitude to even “outrageous” and “ridiculous” opinions.
The rule of thumb for writers — and bloggers — remains: get your facts straight. But the good news for free speechniks is that, if your facts are accurate, you can be dramatic, critical and even wrong in your opinions. It’s good news for bloggers — and bad news for censors everywhere.