Defamation is a statement made to a third party that is false and damaging to the reputation, finances, or well-being of an individual or organization. Defamation can occur in writing (libel) or orally (slander). When a person is the subject of defamatory statements, it can have a dramatic impact on their career, finances and reputation.
For the past four years, the Law Commission of Ontario has been conducting research on how defamation law in the province should be reformed in response to the significant changes to communication the internet has brought to our society. The final report was released this past March.
Purpose of the Project
The internet age has drastically changed the way we communicate, and the speed at which information (and misinformation) can spread. The project began as a way to determine how defamation law in Canada should be reformed to reflect the realities presented by ‘new’ communication tools such as social media channels, blogs and other forms of digital media.
The project leaders identified a need to drastically update the law in Ontario, to address new online tools such as deepfakes (altered videos that can purport to show a person committing an act or making a statement they did not do or say) that can cause massive harm in a short period of time. The LCO identified a gap in the current state of the law, which was not designed for an online world. When defamation laws were created, they were primarily addressing statements made in print, or on radio or television. All of these means are slower to distribute and have more checks and balances than the internet ever could. As stated on the project website:
Traditional defamation law does not provide practical procedures or remedies to resolve many online defamation cases. Court-based litigation is expensive and slow. As a result, practical alternatives are needed to address the problem of anonymous publishers and allow for the resolution of defamation claims “in real time” before extensive reputational harm occurs.
Recommendations for Reform
While the report is extensive and very detailed, there were three main recommendations presented with respect to Ontario defamation law reform.
Reform the Substantive Law
The first recommendation is the repeal the existing Libel and Slander Act and replace it with a more comprehensive Defamation Act. One of the key goals of the new Act would be to remove the distinction between the concepts of libel and slander, which the LCO claims has become all but obsolete in current practice.
Further, the LCO does not recommend an increased codification of the substantive law, but would prefer it to remain largely governed by the common law.
Reform the Litigation Process
Improved access to justice for both defamation complainants and publishers forms a large part of the focus of teh findings. Primarily, the LCO would like to see:
- a new integrated notice regime,
- a new motion for interlocutory takedown orders for defamation complainants, and
- a two-year limitation period and a single publication rule to make the limitation period meaningful in respect of online defamation claims
Reform the Informal Resolution Process
Lastly, the LCO would like to see a new system that diverts many defamation claims away from traditional litigation and towards a more information resolution process, such as online dispute resolution. The LCO has also determined that an intermediate notice and takedown remedy is crucial in order to address complaints in a timely manner while allowing the rights of the parties to be fully addressed by the courts.
For Exceptional Legal Representation in Defamation Matters Contact Milosevic Fiske LLP in Toronto
At Milosevic Fiske LLP we are aware of the many challenges of filing a defamation claim and have the necessary knowledge and litigation experience to successfully help our clients defend themselves and their reputations.
If you are an individual or organization and believe that defamatory comments have been made about you in the media or online, or if you have been accused of making defamatory statements, contact the highly knowledgeable defamation, libel and slander lawyers at Milosevic Fiske LLP as soon as possible. Our goal is to immediately protect you, your reputation, and your livelihood. Call us at 416-916-1387 or contact us online.