City Politicians Succeed In Getting Defamation Claim Against Them Dismissed

Published date13 June 2022
Subject MatterLitigation, Mediation & Arbitration, Disclosure & Electronic Discovery & Privilege, Trials & Appeals & Compensation, Libel & Defamation
Law FirmGardiner Roberts LLP
AuthorMr Stephen Thiele

Politics can be a rough profession, particularly where the issues being debated attract diametrically opposed views. Some social issues often bleed into steadfastly held religious views. When these issues and views collide within the political arena sometimes bitter wars of words erupt in which statements are made that strike at the heart of a person's reputation. This, unfortunately, is the nature of politics because politicians are tasked with responding to issues and developing policies that are in the best interests of everyone. Meanwhile, the public has an inherent democratic right to hear what their elected representatives have to say about issues, including those issues that are controversial or those issues where there are passionately articulated opposing views. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that politicians who are sued for defamation by a person who feels that a politician's statement has allegedly harmed their reputation will be compelled to utilize the "anti-SLAPP" provision (section 137.1) of the Courts of Justice Act (the "CJA") to seek the dismissal of the defamation claim.

In Volpe v. Wong-Tam, 2022 ONSC 3106, the defending Toronto City Councillors and Catholic School Board trustees, among others, succeeded in bringing a section 137.1 motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' action, which included a defamation claim.

The case arose out of comments made by the individual plaintiff (V) in a series of articles published in an ethnic language newspaper about positions that had been taken by the trustees in connection with the LGBTQ2+ community. The articles accused the trustees of being "virtue-signalling thugs", a "rat pack", "terrorists" and "buffoons". V published comments about the LGBTQ2S+ community and on January 8, 2021 published an article criticizing the defendant trustees for their support of a link to the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line website from the Toronto Catholic District School Board (the "TCDSB") website (the "Youthline Article").

Initially, the TCDSB removed the link. This decision was criticized. Five days after the Youthline Article was published, the link was restored.

Various politicians responded to the Youthline Article. One of the defendant councillors (W-T) made statements on Twitter which accused V of "go[ing] after progressive TCDSB trustees brave enough to stand up to [V's] homophobic and transphobic ramblings" and that "the @cityoftoronto should not be spending any public dollars advertising in any media that promotes homophobia, transphobia or any other form of discrimination and hate."

A motion was brought before Toronto City Council to require the ethnic language newspaper in which the articles were published to comply with the City's Human Rights and Anti-Harassment/Discrimination Policy and to sign a "Declaration of Compliance with Anti-Harassment/Discrimination Legislation & all other related City policies." The defendant trustees wrote a joint letter supporting the motion. A virtual Press...

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