The B.C. Court of Appeal has ordered a new trial in a defamation case involving a B.C. salmon-farming company and an opponent of open-net fish farms.
In January, 2007, a B.C. Supreme Court ruling awarded $15,000 to Creative Salmon Company Ltd. after it sued Don Staniford in connection with two news releases issued in 2005. The award included $10,000 in general damages and $5,000 in aggravated damages.
Staniford, who wrote the news releases on behalf of Friends of Clayoquot Sound, appealed the ruling. And on Friday (February 13), the B.C. Court of Appeal granted a new trial as a result of a ruling last June involving broadcaster Rafe Mair.
Justice David Tysoe pointed out in his decision the defence of fair comment was not available to Staniford during the original trial in B.C. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court of Canada since set new parameters around what constitutes “fair comment” in a libel case filed by activist Kari Simpson against Mair and his then-employer, WIC Radio Ltd.
In the Mair case, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the “honest belief” defence of fair comment—i.e. the disseminator must believe it to be true—had to be modified.
According to the country’s highest court, fair comment must contain four elements: it must be on a matter of public interest; it must be based on fact; it must be recognizable as comment; it must also meet the test that any person could honestly express the opinion based on the proven facts.
In the Creative Salmon Company case, Tysoe stated that the trial judge determined that Staniford could not rely on the defence of fair comment because the first news release contained false statements.
Moreover, Tysoe added, the trial judge concluded that Staniford did not prove that statements in the second news release were based on "facts that are true", and which were “made honestly and fairly”.
Tysoe’s decision, was supported by two other justices on the panel, concluded that Staniford “did not fail to state the facts truly so as to deprive himself of reliance on the defence of fair comment”.