Gilbert Rozon: What is Defamation?

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The #MeToo movement made waves in Quebec when Patricia Tulasne accused Just for Laughs festival founder Gilbert Rozon of sexual assault. Mr. Rozon has since sued her for defamation. But what is defamation?

Harm to honour or reputation 

Defamation is when someone’s speech harms the honour or reputation of another person.  Words can be written or spoken. 

Courts have recognized that people risk being held legally responsible for defamation when they 

  • make unpleasant remarks about someone else, knowing that they are false, in order to hurt that person,  
  • spread unpleasant things about someone else when they should have known that they were false, or 
  • make unfavourable but true statements about another person just to generate controversy, without any valid reason for doing so. 

Did you know?

Defamation can happen in TV reports, face-to-face, and on social media.

Exceptions  

Courts don’t consider some types of speech to be defamation.  

For example, courts tend to be more tolerable of criticism and insults against public figures.  Satire and jokes about public figures are also usually acceptable. 

Speech made in good faith about a person can be fine if the topic is in the public interest. An example of this would be a columnist writing an article about a lawyer’s legal history.  

Filing a lawsuit for defamation  

People who think someone has defamed them can file a lawsuit against that person. To win the suit, they must prove that the speech in question was defamatory and that it caused them harm. 

Usually, the lawsuit must be filed within one year of becoming aware of the speech.