Defamation Action Against Ontario Premier Dismissed Under Courts Of Justice Act

Published date29 January 2021
Subject MatterLitigation, Mediation & Arbitration, Disclosure & Electronic Discovery & Privilege, Libel & Defamation
Law FirmGardiner Roberts LLP
AuthorMr Gavin Tighe

Early last year, the Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, in a highly sensationalized lawsuit was sued for defamation by a former Deputy Commissioner and interim Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police for comments that the former officer had broken the Police Services Act ('PSA'). The damages sought by the then former Deputy Commissioner was $5 million. The commencement of the action was the subject of national media attention at the time, along with numerous other stories, between December 1, 2018 and April 1, 2019, related to an investigation by the Ontario Integrity Commissioner into whether the Ontario Premier had breached the Members' Integrity Act during the process to hire a new OPP Commissioner, a judicial review application brought the former officer against the Ombudsman of Ontario to compel the Ombudsman to investigate whether there was political interference in that hiring process and the termination of the officer.

Recently, the Ontario Premier brought a motion to have the former officer's defamation action dismissed under the relatively recently amended section 137.1 of the Courts of Justice Act ('CJA') and what has colloquially become known as strategic litigation against public participation or anti-SLAPP legislation.

In a 16-page judgment, the Honourable Justice Belobaba dismissed the former officer's action ( 2020 ONSC 7100).

The governing legislation

Section 137.1 of the CJA was first introduced into Ontario law in 2015 under the Protection of Public Participation Act, 2015. The impetus for the provision was a desire to give the court the authority to dismiss primarily defamation actions in circumstances where the action had been started 'against individuals or organizations that speak out or take a position on an issue of public interest.' However, as recently stated by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1704604 Ontario Ltd. v. Pointes Protection Association, 2020 SCC 22, the broader goal of the provision was 'to screen out lawsuits that unduly limit expression on matters of public interest through the identification and pre-trial dismissal of such actions.' Accordingly, while initially some viewed this legislation as limited to stopping a well-funded litigant from commencing a defamation claim against a less well-funded party for the purpose of gagging their freedom of expression, the overarching purpose of the provision is far broader and designed to ensure that free speech on matters of public interest is not stifled by primarily tactical litigation. This broader purpose has significant...

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