by Edith Cody-Rice
In July of 2017, Mayor Shaun McLauglin and Councillor John Edwards sued Steve Maynard for what they claimed were libelous postings on his facebook page. Mr. Maynard countersued on the basis of postings by Mr. McLaughlin on his facebook page and in the Millstone.
In August, he also sought dismissal of the law suit on the basis of a section of the Ontario Courts of Justice Act which was added in 2015 to prevent what are known as SLAPP lawsuits (strategic lawsuit against public participation) , where a plaintiff sues simply to impose a gag order on discussion or criticism. The section entitled Dismissal of proceeding that limits debate sets out its purposes as
- to encourage individuals to express themselves on matters of public interest;
- to promote broad participation in debates on matters of public interest;
- to discourage the use of litigation as a means of unduly limiting expression on matters of public interest; and
- to reduce the risk that participation by the public in debates on matters of public interest will be hampered by fear of legal action.
Mr. Justice Hurley of the Superior Court at Perth found that the subject matter of the posts were a matter of public interest as it related to the two councillors in the discharge of their public duties and noted that their action was funded by the municipality. He also noted that Mayor McLaughlin had used social media to criticize Mr. Maynard and should not have been surprised at the response.
The judge did not say that the men had not been defamed.
Defamation occurs when something is said to a person or group of persons about a third party which tends to lower that third party’s reputation in the community. There are, however, defences to a libel lawsuit, one of which is fair comment on a matter of public interest, whether the comment is true or not. The councillors chose not to cross-examine Mr. Maynard on each of the specific allegations; thus the judge was unable to determine the truth of Mr. Maynard’s statements.
He did note that Councillor Edwards’ affidavit showed a strong commitment to the disabled, particularly with respect to sports, but the councillors’ submissions to the court did not show that the defence of fair comment on a matter of public interest was unavailable to Mr. Maynard.
In dismissing the lawsuit, the judge found that the public interest outweighed the private interest in reputation in this case.