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Torts - Defamation - 'Responsible Communication on a Matter of Public Interest'

. 2110120 Ontario Inc. v. Buttar

In 2110120 Ontario Inc. v. Buttar (Ont CA, 2023) the Court of Appeal considers the element of 'malice', which can defeat the defamation defences of both 'fair comment' and 'responsible communication on a matter of public interest':
(2) The defences of fair comment and responsible communication on a matter of public interest

[72] The other two defences raised by the appellant, for the purpose of this appeal, can be addressed briefly. Again, the question at this stage is only whether there is reason to believe that the defences will not succeed. Although the elements of the defences are distinct, both are defeated by malice: Blair v. Ford, 2021 ONCA 841, at para. 45, Torstar, at para. 125. Malice has both subjective and objective aspects: WIC Radio, at para. 28. It may be established by reckless disregard for, or indifference to, the truth, spite or ill-will, or any indirect or ulterior motive: CUPW, at para. 31, citing Hill v. Church of Scientology of Toronto, 1995 CanLII 59 (SCC), [1995] 2 S.C.R. 1130, at p. 1189; Bent, at para. 136. In CUPW, it was sufficient that the evidence might support a finding of malice, based on the presence of an ulterior motive or recklessness about the truth of underlying facts, or based on an inference from the appellants’ conduct: at para. 32.

[73] The appellants submit that there is no evidence of malice in this case. I disagree. While it is premature to determine the question conclusively, even at this preliminary stage, there is evidence to support such a finding based on the presence of an ulterior motive: to intimidate the respondents into paying their claims. There is also evidence of recklessness about the truth of the underlying facts, namely that the orders were under appeal and subject to an ongoing legal process. A key piece of evidence is NSN’s letter of September 25, 2021, that preceded and threatened the October 2 rally, which was addressed to Randeep Sandhu and stated, in part:
You have not paid any of these drivers a cent of what they are owed. Your behaviour is outrageous and shameful. No worker should have to spend extra time and money filing legal claims just to receive their hard-earned pay. We demand that you pay these drivers the above amounts by October 1, 2021. If you refuse, members of the NSN will organize public protests to demand all these drivers be paid. We will expose you and Cargo County Group to other truck drivers, to the Panjabi community in Peel and to the broader public across Ontario. We will also speak publicly about you and your company at our October 2 rally and share details of the drivers’ stories with all local media in attendance. [Emphasis in original.]
[74] Further, NSN’s representative confirmed that NSN knew that the appellants were involved in a legal process with Cargo County but made no inquiries to determine whether any monies were in fact owed at the time of the impugned conduct. The thrust of her evidence was that, irrespective of the status of the legal process and the true facts, NSN intended to bring pressure to bear on Cargo County using the tactics they had employed in other cases, which included calling its principal a “wage thief”.

[75] Without going into the evidence in depth, there is sufficient evidence that could support a finding of malice based on the inflammatory tone and invocation of criminality present in the impugned remarks, the evidence of an ulterior motive to embarrass, shame and intimidate the respondents into paying the appellants’ claims, and a recklessness or indifference to the truth of what was stated.

[76] Accordingly, there is reason to believe that the defences of fair comment and responsible communication on a matter of public interest will not succeed.



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Last modified: 21-08-23
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