2020 October 1
Cliffe v. Allard, 2020 QCCS 3051
The Quebec Superior Court dismissed claims arising from a Facebook post by the winning candidate (the defendant) about the unsuccessful candidate (the plaintiff) in a municipal election. The post appeared briefly about a week before the election, but was withdrawn after the plaintiff complained about it by email sent to the mayor and the councillors of the municipality, which included the defendant. The email demanded withdrawal of the post and an apology. As a result, the defendant took down the post but did not immediately apologize. Shortly after receiving a renewed demand for an apology from the plaintiff’s lawyer, however, the defendant published an apology.
Noting that the allegedly defamatory Facebook post appeared in the context of an election campaign, and that the public “did not expect the candidates to throw flowers at each other”, the court held the post was mistaken but not an actionable civil wrong. The Court suggested that the general objective of political debate is to lower one’s opponent in the estimation of the public, or even present them in an unfavourable light. Further, the Court noted that it is not sufficient to demonstrate that publication has occurred on the Internet to prove that an actionable attack on reputation or damages has occurred. Few people were following the defendant’s Facebook page, the post was only public for a short period of time, and the defendant published an adequate apology.