Gossiping can be a criminal offence. This is stipulated in the Criminal Code of Canada where it is defined as defamation libel. Sections 300 and 301 of the Criminal Code address punishments for this offence.
According to section 300, anyone who publishes a defamatory libel that they know is false is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to a prison term not exceeding five years.
It further states in section 301, that anyone who publishes a defamatory libel is guilty of an indictable offence, and they could face imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.
Defamation is a term that was described as "character assassination" by Justice Twaddle of the Manitoba Court of Appeal in R v Stevens. It involves communication about an individual to others, which is likely to either disturb the peace or severely damage the individual's reputation. Defamation can take different forms.
If it is communicated verbally, it is referred to as slander. If it is in written form, it is called libel. Defamation can also occur as a gesture, in which case, it is a type of slander. While it is not common for defamatory acts to lead to criminal charges, defamation is indeed a criminal offence, and there have been instances where individuals have been criminally charged and convicted.
A study on libel in 2005 reported that up until then, 57 charges for defamation crimes had been brought with 23 convictions, including nine prison sentences, where the average sentence was 270 days. Most of the cases involving s. 301 were related to an agent of the Crown, a police officer, a corrections officer, or a Crown attorney who had been defamed. Defamation acts are typically resolved through civil litigation.
Is It a Crime to Gossip Even if What is Being Said is True?
Defamation is considered a crime irrespective of whether the statement being made is true or untrue. Under section 300, for a defamatory libel to be established, the Crown must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused knowingly made a false statement.
However, under section 301, the defamatory libel does not have to be false. This means that a person can be sent to prison under section 301 even if what they are publishing is entirely true.
How Did Gossiping Become a Crime in Canada?
Gossiping became a criminal offence in Canada when defamation was first made a criminal offence in 1874. The laws have essentially remained unchanged since 1892. In 1984, the Law Reform Commission of Canada proposed that defamatory libel be struck off the Code. The report explained their reasoning, stating “We do not feel that a crime of defamation would be able to do better than 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.”
Despite this recommendation, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the constitutionality of s. 300. But court after court in Canada has struck down s. 301 over time. Most of these cases were influenced by 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 these cases, rendering s. 301 untested by an appellate court. If, somehow, s. 301 did make it to the Supreme Court of Canada, it would most likely be struck down. Pyzer Criminal Lawyers even state that they represent domestic assault cases and can be contacted 24/7 for assistance.
Legal Review By:
Criminal Defence Lawyer (B.A., L.L.B.)
Jonathan Pyzer, B.A., L.L.B, distinguished McGill University and University of Western Ontario alumnus, is a dedicated criminal defence lawyer throughout Ontario. Co-founder of Kostman & Pyzer, Barristers, he focuses on defending individual rights.