In today’s digital age, where information spreads like wildfire, safeguarding one’s reputation has never been more important. Individuals now have the power to make defamatory statements about someone by simply typing a few words and hitting “send” or “post.” As a result, defamation claims are a common cause of action, as false statements about a person or entity can result in enduring consequences, affecting careers, relationships, and personal well-being.
For those facing defamatory statements, the legal recourse available can provide a means to defend your reputation while you seek redress for the harm caused by such statements. However, understanding the complexities of defamation claims and the potential remedies at your disposal, such as injunctive relief, is crucial in navigating this nuanced legal terrain.
This blog post will explore the role of injunctive relief in Ontario’s legal system in relation to a recent case from the Superior Court of Justice whereby an individual was accused of making defamatory statements against a corporate entity and the corporation’s Chief Executive Officer personally. As a result, the parties sought injunctive relief, a remedy with a high threshold, to prevent the respondent from making further defamatory comments.
Respondent makes negative statements and allegations against company and CEO
In the case of Statuscent Inc. v Chehade, Statuscent Inc. and its Chief Executive Officer “KA” (“KA) (collectively the “applicants”) sought a declaration that “KC” (the “respondent”):
- made defamatory statements about the applicants and other related parties;
- a permanent injunction preventing the respondent from making further defamatory statements and threats to defame the applicants and related parties, and
- an order for the respondent to remove his website from the internet and not to re-post it, or any similar comments in any forum.
This application arose due to the defendant’s comments, which he had published through email communications and on a website regarding the corporate applicant and the corporate applicant’s CEO. KA made a complaint regarding the defendant’s conduct to the Quebec Ministry of Justice, resulting in an arrest warrant against the respondent and this proceeding for defamation.
Applicants establish defamation claim against respondent
The Court cited the case of Bakhari v. Rahman, which held that a plaintiff must prove three things to establish that defamation has occurred, namely:
- the defendant made a defamatory statement, in the sense that the impugned words would tend to lower the plaintiff’s reputation in the eyes of a reasonable person;
- the words in fact referred to the plaintiff; and
- the words were communicated to at least one person other than the plaintiff.
Here, the Court found that KA had “clearly established defamation” by the respondent. Specifically, the respondent had made defamatory statements about the applicant to his employer, alma mater, news media, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Quebec Ombudsman, and the Service de police de la Ville de Montreal. The Court identified several emails sent by the respondent which included comments stating, among other things, that:
- the applicant KA and his spouse were “sneaky and sly”…and greet you with a “fraudsters smirk”;
- the applicant KA “absconded from criminal accusations re: fraud leveled against him by his fellow shareholders”;
- the applicant KA was part of the “immigration fraud mafia to Canada from the UAE” and
- the applicant KA was involved in the “black market immigration business” and working in the “black market faulty COVID-19 technology for obvious nefarious reasons.
The Court noted that such comments and “impugned words would tend to lower” KA’s reputation in the eyes of a reasonable person; the words did refer to the applicant, and the respondent communicated the words to other people.
Respondent argues his comments were “true and fair”
When commenting in various correspondence, the respondent referenced KA, the corporate applicant’s CEO, and argued that his comments about the corporate applicant and its product were “true and fair.” He also argued that his “constitutional right to freedom of expression affords him the right to defame,” however, the Court rejected this submission as the respondent provided no evidence to allow him to bring a Charter-based defence.
However, with respect to the respondent’s website, which served as a forum to upload defamatory comments, the respondent removed the website, and there was insufficient evidence to establish that the website had contained defamatory content, as additional hyperlinks were defunct. The Court acknowledged that in Crookes v. Newton, the Supreme Court of Canada held that for the “purposes of defamation law, referring to the existence and/or location of content by hyperlink or otherwise, without more, is no publication of that content.”
When will injunctive relief be granted?
In Bagwalla v. Ronin et al., the Court held that in order for injunctive relief to be granted in a defamatory action, it must be satisfied that:
- The publication complained of must be clearly defamatory;
- If the defendant states an intention to justify or rely on fair comment the injunction will be refused unless it is clear that any such defence will fail; and
- The plaintiff must establish that irreparable harm will occur if the injunction is refused.
Considering the respondent’s defence of fair comment, the Court concluded that this would inevitably fail as the statements were “baseless.” Although the recipients of such comments had eventually set them aside, KA had suffered “reputational harm that damages cannot compensate.” For example, the respondent had demanded that KA’s degree be revoked and had alleged that the applicants operated “an international fraud syndicate.” Therefore, refusing to grant the injunction could cause the applicants to come under “scrutiny and embarrassment due to the nature of the allegations.”
High threshold for permanent injunctive relief
The Court found that this case satisfied the test for injunctive relief because:
- the statements in question were made to third parties and were clearly defamatory;
- the defence of fair comment by the respondent would inevitably fail; and
- the applicants had established irreparable harm if the injunction was refused.
However, the Court found that the criteria for injunctive relief had not been established with respect to the corporate applicant, as the respondent’s statements largely focused on KA, and the website which allegedly hosted defamatory comments had since been taken down. Further, it is unclear to the Court whether the respondent’s fair comment defence would fail in relation to the corporate applicant, as “the technology is novel,” and there was insufficient evidence to suggest that the corporate applicant would suffer irreparable harm as a result of the respondent’s comments if an injunction was not granted.
In the case of Astley v. Verdun, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice set out the test for a permanent injunction in the case of a defamation claim as follows:
“Permanent injunctions have consistently been ordered after findings of defamation where either: (1) there is a likelihood that the defendant will continue to publish defamatory statements despite the finding that he is liable to the plaintiff for defamation; or (2) there is a real possibility that the plaintiff will not receive any compensation, given that enforcement against the defendant of any damage award may not be possible…”
Court grants permanent injunction
The Court noted that the respondent had created a “campaign of defamation,” and he likely would continue to publish defamatory comments regarding KA, as he continued to do so despite an arrest warrant for criminal harassment and extortion. In support of a permanent injunction, the applicants provided evidence to show that the respondent attempted to extort money from KA and his spouse in order to stop making defamatory statements and stated that “I have only started and have yet to quench my thirst…”
As a result, the Court considered the test for a permanent injunction was met and ordered a permanent injunction against the respondent from making threats to defame and defame KA. The Court dismissed the applicant’s application regarding the allegedly defamatory statements against the corporate applicant on the respondent’s website. However, it was left open to the applicants to bring future applications with additional evidence supporting this claim. Finally, the court ordered the respondent to pay costs to KA in the amount of $15,000.
Key Takeaway for Plaintiffs in Defamation Cases
This decision provides a practical examination of the applicable legal tests and remedies that may be considered and available in defamation cases. It highlights instances where a court may grant relief as a permanent injunction. The decision also reminds plaintiffs to provide sufficient evidence to meet the high threshold in these cases, such as screenshots of the statements in question, rather than hyperlinks to websites, which may be taken down before the matter is resolved.
Contact the Lawyers at Milosevic & Associates in Toronto for Trusted Representation in Defamation Actions
At Milosevic & Associates, our team of experienced defamation, libel and slander lawyers regularly advise clients on their rights and options whether they have been accused of making defamatory statements or believe that defamatory statements have been made about them online or in the media. Our team will ensure that both and your reputation remain protected. If you have questions about defamation or want to learn more about how we can assist you, contact us by phone at 416-916-1387 or contact us online.