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CJFE welcomes Supreme Court decision in defamation case

(CJFE/IFEX) - The following is a 27 June 2008 CJFE press release:

CJFE Welcomes Supreme Court's Decision in Defamation Case as an Important Victory for Free Expression

(Toronto, June 27, 2008) - Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) welcomes today's positive decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of WIC Radio Ltd. and Mair v. Simpson as another step forward in Canadian defamation law.

Radio journalist Rafe Mair and Vancouver radio station CKNW were sued about an editorial from October 25, 1999, that was critical of Kari Simpson, an anti-gay lifestyle activist. Mair's lawyer had the suit dismissed with a defence of fair comment at trial in 2004 - this defence protects the freedom to express opinions, even harsh ones. However, the British Columbia Court of Appeal reversed the dismissal in 2006, ruling that the comments were defamatory and that there was no defence of fair comment. The Supreme Court of Canada granted leave to Mair and CKNW to appeal further. The case is the first opportunity that the Court has had to consider the defence of fair comment since 1979 and since the enactment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

CJFE joined a media coalition, represented by lawyer, Brian MacLeod Rogers, to intervene on this important appeal. Other members of the coalition included the Canadian Newspaper Association, Ad IDEM/Canadian Media Lawyers Association, British Columbia Association of Broadcasters, RTNDA Canada/The Association of Electronic Journalists, Canadian Publishers' Council, Magazines Canada and the Canadian Association of Journalists.

Today's decision, reversing the Court of Appeal decision and restoring the decision at trial, clarifies and strengthens the defence of fair comment.

"The Court's decision today is an important advance in the law of defamation and an important victory for journalists and others who value free expression in our society today," said Philip Tunley, Vice President of CJFE, who is himself a lawyer at Stockwoods, LLP, specializing in media and defamation law.

It is rare that the Supreme Court of Canada ever hears a common law libel case. So this is an exciting sign that Canada is at last addressing a gap in defamation legislation that has been both unclear and an obstacle to journalists commenting on cases of public interest.

CJFE is encouraged that this latest decision supports legal trends in defamation law, including the recent Cusson v. Quan case, which upheld a new defence of "public interest responsible journalism" ("PIRJ"). This defence protects statements of fact, as well as opinion, even when evidence isn't available to prove them true in court. This case will soon be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada, and CJFE will also be joining a media coalition to intervene on this case.

We hope that the Mair v. Simpson decision will give renewed protection to journalists in their work and will both clarify and strengthen libel law.

CJFE is an association of more than 300 journalists, editors, publishers, producers, students and others who work to promote and defend free expression and press freedom in Canada and around the world. CJFE has a history of work on cases pertaining to media law and freedom of expression.

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