The Court of Appeal for Ontario has dismissed an Appeal brought by the Rebel News Network against a Decision of 16 February 2021 to dismiss its defamation claim against Al Jazeera. Carter-Ruck client Al Jazeera Media Network won a motion to dismiss a defamation claim brought by Rebel News, a right-wing news organisation, that sued over allegations broadcast by Al Jazeera on its “Listening Post” programme in September 2019.
The motion was brought under the Canadian “anti-SLAPP” legislation; that is a claim for an order dismissing the action as being a strategic lawsuit against public participation (“SLAPP”). That legislation is expressed to be for the purpose of encouraging individuals to express themselves on matters of public interest, to promote broad participation in debates on matters of public interest and to discourage the use of litigation as a means of unduly limiting expression on matters of public interest.
An anti-SLAPP motion tests the merits of the case and of the validity of any defence, but involves only a limited assessment of evidence.
The court found that Rebel had not discharged its burden to show that there was no valid defence to the claim and that Al Jazeera did have a valid defence of responsible communication on matters of public interest (responsible journalism); a defence similar to the defence under s.4 Defamation Act 2013 in England and Wales ((publication on a matter of public interest). The court found that there was a strong public interest in the subject matter of the Al Jazeera programme, so that, in the absence of any evidence of any specific harm caused by the publication, the public interest in free expression and public debate outweighed Rebel’s interests.
The Appeal court agreed that the defence of responsible journalism was available to Al Jazeera, and that the balance of interests weighed in Al Jazeera’s favour. The fact that Rebel was a corporation was significant and any presumption of harm must be limited not only because of that but because there was evidence before the judge that the reputation of Rebel News cannot be said to be unblemished. Rebel did not lead evidence of any specific harm it suffered.
There is currently no equivalent of “anti-SLAPP” legislation in England and Wales.
Claire Gill acted for Al Jazeera and instructed Philip Tunley of St. Lawrence Barristers in Toronto.