Mayor Ford's Libel Case: 'I Can't Accuse Anyone'

In the end, it became simple: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford successfully defended a much publicized libel action as a result of the trial judge's careful application of fundamental principles of libel law to the actual words in issue.

In Foulidis v. Ford,1 the plaintiff, a Toronto businessman, sued Mayor Ford over statements he made to the editorial board of the Toronto Sun during the 2010 Toronto mayoralty campaign. Although the plaintiff claimed damages based on the Sun's republication of the statements, only Mayor Ford was sued.

Mayor Ford's statements to the Sun referred to a city award on an untendered basis of a 20 year contract to a company with which the plaintiff was associated. Mayor Ford referred to an in camera meeting to discuss the contract, saying "these in camera meetings, there's more corruption and skullduggery going on in there than I've ever seen in my life. And...if [the company's name] isn't, I don't know what is. And I can't accuse anyone, or I can't pinpoint it, but why do we have to go in camera...?" He went on to ask rhetorically, "if that [company's name] deal doesn't stink to high heaven..."

Justice John Macdonald concluded that Mayor Ford's words failed to disclose the essential elements of the plaintiff's libel case. To prove a prima facie case in libel, a plaintiff need establish three elements: first, that the words refer to the plaintiff; second, that the words have been published to a third party; and third, that the words complained of are defamatory of the plaintiff, in the sense that they would tend to lower the reputation of the plaintiff in the estimation of reasonable persons. These elements being established, the law presumes the words are false and that the plaintiff has suffered general damages.2 It then falls to the defendant to establish a defence, such as justification (truth), absolute or qualified privilege, or fair comment, among others.

The issue of publication was incapable of dispute: having spoken to the Sun on the record, Mayor Ford was legally responsible for the Sun's republication of his words.3 Justice Macdonald found, however, that the plaintiff had not established a prima facie case because the words spoken by Mayor Ford were not defamatory of the plaintiff, and did not refer to the plaintiff personally. The plaintiff having failed to establish two of the three essential elements of a libel claim, Justice Macdonald held that there was no need to consider any of the defences pleaded by...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT