The decision in Cyr v. LeBlanc, 2022 ONSC 2555, shows that damages in defamation actions can be quite high.
The defendant published statements about the plaintiff on several websites. Many of the statements labeled the plaintiff as being racist. The plaintiff contacted the defendant by Instagram, requesting the postings be removed. The defendant escalated the attacks. She also alleged that the posts were made by a friend.
The plaintiff sued the defendant, and the defendant did not defend. On a motion for default judgment, Justice Gordon found that the statements were made by the defendant and was satisfied that the statements were defamatory and were seen by many people.
A defamatory statement is one that has a tendency to lower the reputation of the person to whom it refers in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally, and in particular to cause him or her to be regarded with feelings of hatred, contempt, ridicule, fear, dislike or disesteem. The test is an objective one. There is no requirement to show the defendant intended to do harm, or even that the defendant was careless. The tort is one of strict liability.
Justice Gordon noted that publishing defamatory statements on the Internet increases the probability that other people will see the statements and, therefore, enhances the level of humiliation and embarrassment to innocent people. Damages in such circumstances will likely be higher than in cases decided prior to defamation on the Internet.
The defendant’s online attacks impacted the plaintiff’s business career and could impact her future employment and other activities in the community. The plaintiff is fearful of continued harassment.
The plaintiff was awarded general damages of $75,000, punitive damages of $25,000, and aggravated damages of $25,000.
Moreover, the defendant was directed to remove the postings containing the defamatory words and was ordered to not publish, disseminate or broadcast the defamatory words or similar words.
Lastly, the plaintiff was awarded substantial indemnity costs and likely would have been awarded full indemnity costs if they had been requested.