Defamation is the publication or dissemination of untrue statement(s) that have the ability to damage a person’s reputation. There are two main categories of defamation:
Libel, which is when the defamation is printed. This can include publication in a newspaper, on a website, or on social media (including Facebook and Twitter).
Slander, which is when the defamation is stated verbally. (In order to qualify under this definition, the defamatory words must have been heard by at least one other person.)
Defamation in Alberta is governed by the Defamation Act. In recent years, online defamation has become the increasing subject of litigation as what is often stated on the internet can subsist for years and continue to cause damage to you or your business.
Defamation is a very technical area of the law and it is highly recommended that you contact a lawyer immediately upon discovery of any injurious statements about you or your business. There are also specific timelines that must be followed and, often, if a person who is defamed waits too long, they may be barred from taking any action.
Our firm has successfully represented numerous clients to advance defamation actions as well as defend them. Some of our past cases have included:
The law has developed numerous defenses to defamation, which include:
> Justification – if what someone said is true, it is of course not defamation;
> Fair comment – people and media are entitled to make statements about others or events, in their own opinion, even if these comments are critical or negative – so long as they are fair. In order to qualify for this defense, a Defendant must establish that their statements were not intended as facts – but comments. This protection also only exists if the intention is not in an attempt to injure a party’s reputation.
> Qualified privilege – This defense can apply where the person who made the statement has a legal, moral, or social duty to do so. This can include proceedings of regulatory agencies, fair criticism in a review, or statements made to warn others of harm or danger. Note that qualified privilege is not a defense to defamation if malice is proven.
> Absolute privilege – this applies to members of a law-making body (i.e. a parliament or legislature) for statements made during the course of debates and while in the legislative chamber.
The damages for defamation vary widely and largely depend on the nature of the defamation and the damage that it has caused. Some major cases in defamation include:
> Kent v. Martin 2018 ABCA 202 (CanLII) – Plaintiff awarded $200,000.00 of defamation and $450,000.00 of costs (on appeal);
> Hill v. Church of Scientology of Toronto  2 SCR 1130 – the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a lower Court’s judgment of $300,000.00 in general damages, $500,000.00 in aggravated damages, and $800,000.00 in punitive damages.