CAJ Battles Libel Chill

OTTAWA, Dec. 15 /CNW/ - The Canadian Association of Journalists is today asking the Supreme Court of Canada to protect public interest journalism and reject an expansion of libel laws.

The case before the court, Malhab v. Diffusion Métromédia CMR, threatens the free speech of journalists and commentators by grossly expanding libel law to include groups of people as well as individuals. That means more of the investigative work journalists do to uncover stories in the public interest could run afoul of broader libel laws.

The CAJ is intervening in the case as part of a coalition that includes the Canadian Newspaper Association and Ad IDEM/Canadian Media Lawyers Association. In arguments made today, lawyers for the media coalition noted that many important news stories, including a Toronto Star series on the racial profiling practices of police and a series by the Halifax Daily News about child abuse at a boys school, could have been chilled if Canadian courts recognized group defamation.

In 1998, Quebec radio host Andre Arthur made offensive comments about Arab and Haitian taxi drivers, claiming their cars were dirty and their licensing system based on bribery. The president of the cab drivers' association launched a class action libel suit that involved 1,000 cabbies. A trial judge sided with the cab drivers and awarded $220,000 in damages, but Quebec's court of appeal ruled that Arthur's comments may have been outrageous but did not meet the test of defamation. Canadian common law and Quebec's Civil Code hold that, for a statement to be libellous, it must be "of and concerning" a specific individual.

"We may find Mr. Arthur's comments distasteful, but it makes no sense to restrict free speech in order to punish one person's ignorant generalizations," said CAJ president Mary Agnes Welch. "Rewriting Canada's libel laws to include groups could stifle genuine public debate and kill news stories that are in the public's interest."

The Canadian Association of Journalists is Canada's largest professional organization for journalists from all media, with about 1,100 members across the country. The CAJ provides high-quality professional development for its members and public-interest advocacy.

SOURCE Canadian Association of Journalists

For further information: For further information: Mary Agnes Welch, CAJ president, (204) 470-8862 or (204) 697-7590; To join the CAJ, please visit:

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