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Libel and Slander

In Ontario, defamation occurs when an individual makes written or spoken, published statements in print or online that are false, and which disparage the reputation of a person or company.

To have a cause of action in defamation, a person must establish four things:

  • 1. That the impugned words were defamatory, in the sense that a reasonable person would tend to think lower of the person’s reputation as a result of the statements
  • 2. That the words in fact referred to the person
  • 3. That the words were published or communicated to at least one person other than the plaintiff
  • 4. That the court action is made within six weeks of the alleged defamation, and that the plaintiff gave the defendant written notice they are aware of it, and that they will file a statement of claim against them.

The main issue in determining whether a statement was defamatory usually focuses on answering the question of whether the words tend to lower the reputation of the person in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally.  It is important to note that, to be defamatory, the statements must be interpreted from the perspective of “reasonable” or “right-thinking” individuals of society. This essentially prevents frivolous and vexatious claims.

While the cause of action in defamation originally developed through the common law, it has now been codified in every Canadian province in one form or another, and specifically in Ontario under the Libel and Slander Act, RSO 1990. 

Defamatory statements can be made on the radio or television, published in a printed news article, in a blog post, or on a social network. They can also be statements made by an individual about a colleague at a private work function.