Manitoba Court of Appeal

Courtesy CBC

A Manitoba judge has slashed the $500,000 awarded to a defamation victim to $50,000, says Blacklock’s Reporter.

The judge ruled prairie courts are much more modest in awarding liberal damages.

“Civil jury trials in Manitoba are rare,” wrote Justice William Burnett of the Manitoba Court of Appeal.

“Awards for defamation in that amount are virtually non-existent.”

“The jury’s award of $500,000 is wholly disproportionate and shockingly unreasonable,” wrote Burnett, who worked 32 years as a civil litigator.

“This was not a case of widespread or repeated publication of defamatory statements in print media, radio, television or on the Internet.”

Millionaire developer Marcel Chartier in 2021 won his defamation claim against a former business partner who badmouthed him at a lunch meeting. The court was told Chartier’s ex-partner had called him a thief.

“There was no further publication of the defamatory comments,” wrote Burnett.

The slander was uttered to two people over a lunch table, “a small audience by any measure,” and “the impact of the comments was negligible,” the court added.

“The jury’s award of $500,000 is replaced with an award of $50,000,” ordered the court, noting there “is no mathematical formula” to placing value on damages for defamation.

Burnett said he reviewed dozens of rulings in Western courts, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia over the past six years in concluding the half-million award was excessive.

“Having considered more than 50 recent decisions where damages were awarded for reputational harm it is readily apparent the present award is well beyond the maximum limit of a reasonable range,” wrote Burnett.

Large libel awards are uncommon in Canada. The Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench last December 15 ordered the CBC to pay $1,659,403 for defaming a local investment adviser in a 2012 television broadcast.

The case is under appeal.

The largest award to date, $3 million, was paid in 2008 to an Ottawa pilot falsely accused of impairment.

The Supreme Court in 1995 upheld a $1.6 million award to a Toronto Crown prosecutor defamed by the Church of Scientology.

In 2016, the British Columbia Supreme Court awarded $1.1 million in damages to a Vancouver businessman falsely accused of being a drug trafficker.

The Supreme Court in 2002 refused to hear an appeal from the CBC over a $950,000 award to an Ottawa physician falsely accused of improper conduct by the news program The Fifth Estate.

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