The SPEECH Act In Action: Canadian Innkeepers v. U.S. Blogger

The SPEECH Act lawyer
What happens in a cross-border defamation lawsuit between a Canadian and an American?

Can a Canadian sue a U.S. citizen, in a Canadian court, for defamation? Yes.

If the Canadian wins, must the American pay damages? Because of the SPEECH Act, maybe not.

Securing the Protection of Our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act (A.K.A., The SPEECH Act)

It’s a law with a long name and a big job. The Securing the Protection of Our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act is the regulation workhorse that materially safeguards U.S. citizens’ free speech rights in foreign jurisdictions.

How does the SPEECH Act work?

The paperwork particulars are nuanced and better left for a lawyer. But, in basic terms, the SPEECH Act works like this:

When a foreign court hands down a ruling against an American citizen, the party seeking restitution must ask a “stateside” court to enforce the ruling. Under the SPEECH Act, however, judges can refuse to issue payment orders to “losing” parties if a verdict flouts U.S. free speech standards.

U.S. Defamation Laws v. Canadian Defamation Laws

The United States has the most defendant-friendly libel laws in the English-speaking world; Canada, arguably, has the most plaintiff-friendly libel laws in the same demographic. As such, sometimes U.S. courts won’t recognize a libel judgment handed down in a Canadian Court.

The Notable Exception: If the facts of the case are such that the Canadian plaintiff would have won in both a U.S. and Canadian court, then the American party will be forced to pay damages.

SPEECH ACT Case Study: Blogger v. Canadian B&B Owners

Impugning Innkeepers and Politicians On

Some time ago, a man in Mississippi (we’ll call him “Earl”) posted a missive on an area politician busted for theft and bribery. Earl compared the disgraced official with the owners of a guest house in Nova Scotia, quipping that both the politician and the innkeepers “had champagne taste on a beer budget” and “worked as a unit to grift their way through life.”

Canadian Innkeepers Sue for Online Libel

Earl dragged the innkeepers into a Mississippi political melee, so the innkeepers dragged Earl into a Nova Scotia court. The charge? Defamation. And they won a $430,000 judgment.

But can the Canadians collect the money?

To collect the damages, as is the process, the Canadian innkeepers petitioned a Mississippi court for a payment order. But Chief Judge Guirola evoked the SPEECH Act, ruling that Earl would have probably won the case in a U.S. court and therefore wasn’t beholden to the damages handed down by the Canadian court.

The innkeepers appealed; the Fifth Circuit denied

A party may enforce a foreign defamation judgment in a domestic court if either (A) the law of the foreign forum . . . provides free-speech protection that is coextensive with relevant domestic law, or (B) the facts . . . are sufficient to establish a defamation claim under domestic law.

The higher court found that Nova Scotia’s libel standards used in this case didn’t mesh with point (A) or (B).

(Case: TROUT POINT LODGE, LIMITED, a Nova Scotia Limited Company, VAUGHN PERRET, and CHARLES LEARY, Plaintiffs-Appellants)

Canadian-U.S. Defamation Litigation and Lawyers

Kelly / Warner Law has successfully handled many Canadian-U.S. libel cases. If you’re facing a foreign defamation judgment and want to exercise SPEECH ACT rights, we can help. If you want to sue a non-U.S. citizen for defamation, we can also help. If you are being sued for defamation and need defense counsel, we do that too.

Kelly / Warner is a top-rated, full-service law firm – with an excellent track record in cases involving the SPEECH Act.

Get in touch today to begin the conversation.

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