Open

Is it a Crime to Gossip?

Acts of defamation libel can be criminal

Acts of defamation libel can be criminal

 

  • Gossiping can be a criminal offence, in the Criminal Code of Canada it is defined as defamation libel.

Criminal Code of Canada:

Defamation 

Punishment of libel known to be false
300. Every one who publishes a defamatory libel that he knows is false is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

R.S., c. C-34, s. 264.

Punishment for defamatory libel
301. Every one who publishes a defamatory libel is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

R.S., c. C-34, s. 265.

What exactly is defamation?

  • In R v Stevens Justice Twaddle of the Manitoba Court of Appeal  described defamation as “character assassination”
  • Defamation is communication about an individual, to others, that is likely to either disturb the peace or cause serious harm to the target’s reputation.
  • Defamation that is communicated verbally is referred to as slander. If defamation is written, it is referred to as libel. If defamation occurs as a gesture it is considered a type of slander.
  • It is uncommon for an act of defamation to lead to a criminal charge, that being said it is a criminal offence and individuals have been criminally charged and convicted of defamation
  • According to a 2005 study on libel 57 people up to that point had been charged with crimes of defamation, with 23 convictions, including nine prison sentences. The average sentence was 270 days.
  • Almost every case of s. 301 has to do with an agent of the Crown, a police officer, a corrections officer, or a Crown attorney who has been defamed
  • Typically an acts of defamation are resolved via civil litigation

Is it a crime to Gossip even if what is being said is true?

  • Defamation is a crime whether or not the statement being made is true or untrue
  • A defamatory libel under s. 300, the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the accused knew what they were saying was false.
  • A defamatory libel under s. 301 doesn’t have to be false.
  • In other words, a person can go to prison under s. 301 even if what they’re publishing is completely true.

How did gossiping become a crime in Canada?

  • Defamation was first made a criminal offence in Canada in 1874 and the laws have remained essentially unchanged since 1892.
  • In 1984, the Law Reform Commission of Canada recommended that defamatory libel be struck from the Code.
  • The report stated: “We do not feel that a crime of defamation would be able to do better that which is already done by the civil law of defamation…Accordingly, we recommend that our Criminal Code should contain no crime of defamation, even in a restricted form.”
  • The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the constitutionality of s. 300.
  • However, court after court in Canada has struck down s. 301.
  • These cases focused on the fact that an individual could still be convicted of defamatory libel even if they were being truthful.
  • The Crown has been unwilling to appeal in these cases therefore s. 301 has never been tested by an appellate court.
  • If, somehow, s. 301 did make it to the Supreme Court of Canada, it most likely would be struck down.

 

5 Apr 2016

Leave a Comment