Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Canadian Libel

Following up on yesterday’s post about a school suing a former parent for her blog postings about the school, I received an e-mail from a reader in Canada who told me about the perils of blogging in the True North.

[T]his kind of crap happens in Canada regularly, these days, because of our antiquated “reverse onus” on libel. Basically, if I (as a Canadian) decided that you (as a blogger) published something libellous, I could take you to court and you would have to pay all kinds of lawyers to prove that what you said was true. I don’t have to prove that it was untrue, or even damaging. It doesn’t matter a whit what you say, because you will still have to pay massive legal bills if I decide I don’t like it.

[…]

This of course leads to severe “libel chill” where people are afraid to post ANYTHING online that may piss off a rich person. One guy who was an art critic blogger got libel threat letters from the companies with interests in the artists he was critical of, so he took down the whole blog so he didn’t have to face the legal bills.

This is actually quite illegal in the USA, where it would be called a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation)…

The writer informed me of a case where just such a lawsuit against a blogger is being fought out in the courts against a group of writers who had put together a wiki, and the subject of the articles took exception to it. Read more about the suit here at the blog of Chris Tindal, a Green Party member in Toronto. As Chris explains, Canadian libel laws are based on British common law, which seems to side more with the target of speech than the speaker.

As much as I like and respect the Canadians, I am grateful that our laws concerning libel and slander here in the States come down on the side of freedom of speech for both sides.