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Has Rob Ford Been Defamed?

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Has Rob Ford Been Defamed?

It’s hard to escape the coverage of Mayor Rob Ford in the news these days, and perhaps it’s best not to even try. But while I will leave the political opinion and commentary to the experts and not-so-experts, one interesting aspect of the Mayor Ford Saga that got a little less media coverage is the question of defamation – and in particular whether the Mayor can take legal action against his former staffers for the information they gave police about his alleged cocaine use.

First, a little primer: In law, “defamation” occurs anytime there is some sort of communication that tend to lower a person in the estimation of others, or which tend to cause a person to be shunned or avoided, or else exposed to hatred, contempt or ridicule. The communication can be written, printed, or spoken, or else it can consist of audible or visible matters or acts.

So despite all posturing in the news, in order to succeed in his defamation accusations against his staffers Mayor Ford will have to legally prove three things:

• that the impugned words spoken by the staffers were defamatory, in the sense that they would tend to lower the Mayor’s reputation in the eyes of a reasonable person;

• that the words in fact referred to the Mayor; and

• that the words were “published”, meaning that they were communicated to at least one person other than Mayor Ford himself.

And here’s an important point: even if the statements by the staffers meet these three criteria, the Mayor’s defamation action will not succeed if the statements were true, if they amounts to “fair comment” or “responsible communication” on a matter of public interest, or if they are privileged.

On that last point: the concept of “qualified privilege” is something that the staffers could possibly raise in defence of any defamation action that Mayor Ford might choose to launch. As applied to these circumstances, they could very well claim that the information they gave police during their formal investigation fell within the category of communications that are not only legally and morally encouraged in our society, but are also actively protected by law – to the point where the staffers would be held immune from scrutiny and liability in any defamation action they may face.

So will Rob Ford succeed in his defamation action? Hard to tell. But one thing is for sure with the Mayor you can never know what to expect.

What do you think?

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