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Defamation in the internet age means you can sue in Ontario for statements made abroad

In a recent decision released in August 2015, an Ontario Court held that a plaintiff could bring a defamation action in Ontario over allegedly defamatory statements made in a foreign based news publication which were posted online. The plaintiff is a Canadian billionaire owner of a soccer club in Israel. The defendants are Israeli journalists and an Israeli based news outlet, Haaretz, which has no print circulation in Canada but is available globally online.

When the plaintiff sued the foreign defendants in Ontario, these defendants brought a jurisdictional motion arguing the action should be heard in Israel. Despite all the dispute’s Israeli links, the Court allowed the claim to proceed to trial in Ontario primarily because the allegedly defamatory statements had been posted online and viewed by at least some people in Ontario.

First, the Court held that Ontario has Jurisdiction Simpliciter over the action. Because people read the allegedly defamatory statements in Ontario, a tort was committed in Ontario and thus a presumptive connecting factor linked the case to Ontario. This presumption could not be rebutted just because more people read the Article in Israel than in Ontario.  Even a small number of viewings in Ontario would be sufficient to ground the claim.

Second, the Court held that Israel is not a clearly more appropriate forum for the action despite the fact that the corporate and individual defendants are based in Israel and have no assets in Ontario, the witnesses would have to fly in from Israel, and the widest readership of the publication is Israel. Rather, fairness to the parties weighed in favour of Ontario. The Court held that the defendants published an article that impugned a Canadian business man’s reputation, and the businessman should be allowed to attempt to vindicate his reputation in Ontario, where he lives and works.

The key to the decision in Goldhar v Haaretz.com et al., 2015 ONSC 1128, is that at least some people read the impugned article in Ontario. At the time of publication, the article could be accessed from anywhere in the world using the internet. The court heard evidence that it is likely 200-300 people read this article online. This decision has repercussions for worldwide publications available on the web. It implies that even a single or few views of a seemingly defamatory statement on a foreign website may give rise to the legal right to sue in Ontario.

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