Defamation Lawsuit Against An Online Newspaper Could Set Legal Precedence

defamation lawsuit against an online newspaper
A high-profile defamation lawsuit is taking place in Canada. It could have significant impact on future libel lawsuits in the country.

A defamation lawsuit against an online newspaper is making headlines. In one corner we have the Georgia Straight (think Vancouver’s Village Voice) and John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Olympic Committee for Vancouver’s 2010 games. Accusations of abuse are at the forefront in this online libel lawsuit — and the ruling could be a significant one in Canadian defamation law.

Defamation Lawsuit Against An Online Newspaper: Olympics Executives v. Georgia Straight

Journalist Laura Robinson wrote an article for the Georgia Straight. In it, she alleged that Furlong, while staying in Canada as a teenager, physically and emotionally abused aboriginal students in Burns Lake.

To back up her story, Robinson had 8 affidavits.

When the story hit, Furlong held a press conference within hours. He also announced plans to file a defamation lawsuit. The VANOC executive “categorically den[ied] absolutely any wrongdoing.” He insisted that “it JUST did not happen.”

In essence, he left himself very little wiggle room in terms of defamation defense strategies. Keep reading to find out why.

The New “Responsible Communication” Defamation Law Standard

This defamation lawsuit may be among the first to test a Canadian defamation legal precedent that says publications distributing “responsible communications on matters of public interest” are not liable for defamation.

Traditionally, truth has been an absolute defense in Canadian defamation lawsuits. But with this new ruling, even if the accusations turn out to be 100% false, Robinson may win if she can prove that she had solid sources and attempted to contact Furlong, to no avail.

How Would This Case Play Out In A U.S. Court?

Canada is widely considered to have the most plaintiff-friendly defamation laws in the English-speaking world. Unlike slander and libel statutes in the United States, Canadian defamation claimants don’t have to prove actual malice. As a result, in a U.S. court, the edge would probably go to Robinson – especially since she has 8 legal affidavits.

That being said, in a US court, if Furlong could prove that Robinson acquired the affidavits haphazardly or inappropriately, then he could possibly wrangle a win.

Furlong has gone on record as saying that Robinson’s piece in The Straight “feels very much like a personal vendetta” against him. But the journalist, nor her employer, is backing down. As such, the stage is set for a very public defamation lawsuit.

Want to read more about the differences between United States defamation law and other countries? Check out our International Online Defamation Database. If you’re in search of a defamation lawyer, get in touch here.