What is a Newspaper? Online Articles Under the Libel and Slander Act
Prior to December 2013, the Appellant wrote a rap song, entitled “Got Yourself a Gun”. The lyric of this rap song resulted in the Appellant being charged with uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm and criminal harassment. Shortly after, Ballingall interviewed the Appellant with respect to the criminal charges.
On December 4, 2013, Ballingall’s article entitled “Rapper says death threat just a lyric” was published on the Toronto Star’s online version of its newspaper. The next day, the Appellant sent the Toronto Star an electronic "factual error" message function through the Toronto Star's website. The Appellant’s message stated, in part:
(1) Does the LSA apply to the online article?
(2) Did the Appellant comply with the LSA?
(3) Did the motion judge err in striking the Appellant’s claim?
The Ontario Court of Appeal’s Decision
The Appellant argued that the online version of the article did not fall within the definition of “newspaper” under the LSA. Specifically, he argued that because the online version is not published in a physical paper, it is excluded from the definition of “newspaper” under LSA. The Court did not agree. Citing, Weiss v. Saywer (2002), 61 O.R. (3d) 526 (Ont.C.A.), the Court held that the definition of “newspaper” under the LSA is interpreted broadly as to encompass a newspaper which is published online. Further, the Court stated (para 25):
The regime in the LSA provides timely opportunity for the publisher to address alleged libellous statements with an appropriate response that could be a correction, retraction, or apology. Now that newspapers are published and read online, it would be absurd to provide different regimes for print and online versions.
(2) Was the action statute-barred?
The Appellant argued that the notice and limitation period did not start to run until the article was no longer available on the Internet. More specifically, he argued that every day that the online article remained posted was a new and distinct cause of action with new and distinct notice and limitation periods. The Court did no accept this submission. The Court noted that the “multiple publication rule” provides that when an alleged libel is republished across different mediums, the republications are considered distinct libels. This was not the case here.
Further, the Court clarified, stating “[t]he time by which the plaintiff must give notice under s. 5(1) and bring his action under s. 6 begins to run when the libel has come to the knowledge of the person defamed” (para 36).
The Appellant argued that the motion judge erred in admitting evidence with respect to the motion to strike. The Court did not accept this submission. Rather, the Court found that the motion judge only referred to the documents cited by the Appellant in his claim. The Court held that after concluding hat the LSA applied to the online article, it was clear from the acknowledgements of the Appellant that the claim was not started within the notice and limitation periods. As such, the Court found that it was plain and obvious that the action could not succeed.
Ultimately, the Court dismissed the Appellant’s appeal.
Ultimately, if you become aware of a publication which you intended to allege to be libellous and/or defamatory, you should be mindful of the short notice and limitation periods.
The above article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have concerns with regard to the foregoing issues, please make an appointment with one of our lawyers or a qualified legal practitioner elsewhere.