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Privilege

There are two types of privilege in the tradition of Canadian common law: qualified and absolute.

Qualified Privilege

Qualified privilege is a defence that applies to specific occasions where it is in the public interest to speak candidly. It is important to note that this defence does not apply to statements or comments per se, but to specific situations such as press conferences and other public addresses made for laudable purposes, such as the purpose of informing the public and furthering accountability by public officials. The defendant will not be held liable if it is determined that the public good was or could be furthered through open debate and discussion.

If established, it is a very strong defence because it encompasses all defamatory statements made on a specific occasion. However, even the defence of qualified privilege will fail if the comments were made in malice, ill will or other improper purposes. 

Absolute privilege

This defence protects speech absolutely. It is commonly applied to comments made by public officials including members of provincial and federal parliaments and civil servants and is made for the purpose of furthering investigations and the administration of justice.  This defence is similar to that of qualified privilege in that it applies to given situations rather than the impugned statements themselves, except it is even narrower in the situations to which it applies.