Friday 3 April 2015

The  dangers  inherent  in  spreading  false  rumors

False rumors circulating around a community or in one’s employment or school can cause serious damage to one’s reputation. That is why it is so important that if you have been told something about another person, you don’t tell it to anyone else unless you are absolutely satisfied in your own mind that what you have been told is correct. To do otherwise is to harm an innocent person and bring the wrath of a trial judge or jury down on you if you are sued for defamation of character. What follows is the story of a fool who didn’t take greater care in determining the truthfulness of a false rumour. 

A young person who will be identified merely as “the girl” accompanied by Sherry Dupuis went to the RCMP where the girl falsely accused Simon Caron of rape raping her. Later, it was established that Simon was innocent of the allegation of raping the girl in light of the following reasons. It was established that he was actually working 1500 kilometres  in Alberta on the day the event was said to have occurred, moreover, he was away for the for the entire month. The proof of his alibi was established by his work records, credit card statements, credit card records, and courses he attended in Alberta. The police after investigating the case had decided that no charges should be laid against Simon.

The girl circulated horrible rumors about a rape that never occurred, and even claimed that she had dropped the criminal charges; at that point Simon’s life was in danger so he left Vanderhoof (his home town) to go in hiding in Prince George. His vehicle was sabotaged, a friend of his was threatened to be hurt if he was to be seen in Caron’s presence. The girl also told Hailey Gatacre who filed an affidavit to attest that the girl directly told Hailey that Caron had raped her. The rumor including names was still circulating, so that his brother Adam heard of it in his welding class in Fort St. James in December 2013. Moreover, Caron received treatments for depression. Further, he had foregone opportunities as a lease hand in Alberta for winter drilling and other opportunities out of fear that the rumour may have gone that far.         

Simon sued the girl (yes. you can sue a child) for defamation of his character but her parents objected that their daughter should be sued so they applied to the court to have Caron’s claim dismissed on the grounds that to the extent that the plaintiff’s (Caron’s) allegations relate to statements made by the applicant (the girl) to the RCMP, (provincial police force in small communities in British Columbia) the statements are protected by absolute privilege.

I will explain to you what is meant by absolute privilege. It is a complete defence to an action for defamation. it is irrelevant that a defendant has acted with malice. Absolute privilege can be deployed in a narrow range of cases. Statements made in judicial proceedings are protected as are communications between a solicitor and his or her client and one’s psychiatrist including confessions made in the Confessional to a Catholic priest. These are just a few. The question before the court was whether or not a statement by a rape victim to a police officer is protected as an absolute privilege.  

The application for dismissal was heard before a judge in what is referred to as a summary court hearing. Such hearings are brought about more or less in a judge’s chambers when parties to a court action want a case to be dismissed instead of the case moving on to a full trial.

The appellant (the girl through her lawyer) applied for a summary judgment dismissing the claim at a summary hearing on the grounds that it was plain and obvious that the defamation claim could not succeed because the statement alleged to be defamatory was protected by absolute privilege and the remainder of the pleadings disclosed no reasonable cause of action against the girl. The chambers judge rejected the appellant’s argument that absolute privilege applied, and therefore refused to strike the paragraphs in the pleadings that refer to the statement to the RCMP.  The judge did however strike the remainder of the pleadings of the plaintiff (Caron) as disclosing no reasonable cause of action. It was what she said to the police that is damaging to the girl’s defence.

The appellant appealed the decision of the chambers judge to the British Columbia Court of Appeal and submitted that the chambers judge erred in concluding that the defence of absolute privilege did not apply to her statement to the RCMP. The appellant’s argument was still based on the premise that such statements are protected even if made maliciously. This appeal raised the issue of whether an initial complaint made to police, prior to the commencement of judicial proceedings, is protected by absolute privilege.

Qualified privilege applies when there is a “duty, legal, social or moral, to publish the matter complained of to persons with a corresponding duty or interest to receive it. The legal effect of the defence of qualified privilege is to rebut the inference, which normally arises from the publication (includes the spoken word) of defamatory words, that they were spoken with malice. However, the privilege is not absolute and can be defeated if the dominant motive for publishing the statement is actual or express malice. (the intentional doing of a wrongful act with the intent to inflict injury upon another person—in this case, defamation)

In short, where there is a public or shared interest in support of the statement both being made and received, a defendant cannot be held to have defamed a plaintiff unless the plaintiff can show that the defendant made the alleged publication for a malicious purpose. It appears to me that if the girl knew (and I think that she knew) that the charges against the plaintiff would not be laid against him, she had no legal right to spread the rumour that Caron had raped her especially when she had learned that he was in another province when the alleged rape occurred. There certainly was no public or share interest in support of her false allegation hence she acted with malice towards Simon.

It is a question of balancing two interests. The public interest should outweigh that of the individual for at least two reasons. Firstly the immunity will only be conferred upon a citizen complaining in a confidential way to a body created by statute. A communication of that kind can hardly be said to be a publication of the kind that is apt to harm one’s reputation in the community to a degree sufficient to attract an award of compensation. This means that when the girl complained to the police that Simon had raped her. she was immune from defamation if the police don’t act on her allegation.

Secondly, the right to complain to the police must be the subject of rules governing them. These rules cannot be enforced without a corresponding right in the members of the public to complain uninhibited and without fear of being found wrong and as a result being subject to actions in defamation.  The problem the girl was facing was that after she was informed by the police that Simon was totally innocent because of his alibi, she spread the rumor that he was guilty of raping her.

This raises an interesting issue that arose in California. Simpson, a famous football player was found by a jury to be innocent of murdering his ex-wife and her boyfriend. Immediately after his acquittal, the parents of the victims said that they still believed that he was guilty. By making that statement, it was not defamation. That is because it was their belief that he was guilty. In fact it was the belief of millions of people world-wide including myself. They didn’t say as a matter of fact that he was guilty since they weren’t at the murder scene when the murders occurred.

The girl in this case I am submitting to you said as a matter of fact that she was actually raped by Simon when in fact that was not even remotely true and unless she is mentally ill and doesn’t have the ability to understand what she was doing,

If the question is asked: “Do the police exercise quasi-judicial or administrative functions?” To ask the question is to answer it. The police investigate, they do not adjudicate. If they adjudicate, then the girl would be protected by absolute privilege. Since they don’t adjudicate, the girl has no protection of a claim against her of defamation.   

It is quite clear to me that absolute privilege would not apply where the information proffered to the girl’s friends was maliciously told to them by her as learned in the cases before the courts.    

In summary, the law in Canada, at least at the trial level, appears to be quite consistent that only a qualified, and not an absolute, privilege applies to initial complaints made to the police before the commencement of judicial proceedings. Trial level decisions in Nova Scotia, Ontario, and British Columbia, while not binding on Superior courts in general, have all reiterated this principle.   

The appellant can therefore only succeed on the issue of absolute privilege if this Court were to expand the defence so as to include complaints to the police. This is a step further than any jurisdiction in Canada has, as of yet, gone. There is a very good reason for this. A person is deemed innocent unless otherwise deemed guilty in a court of law.

This raises an interesting dilemma for Bill Crosby, the famous television actor has not been charged with any crime and yet many women have publicly accused him of molesting them. He could sue them for defamation but if he did, and a judge or jury decided that he had molested them, his reputation would go further down the toilet than it already is.  He hasn’t sued for obvious reasons.          

The court of appeal dismissed the young girl’s appeal. Simon Caron can proceed with his defamation claim against her. If he gets judgment against her, when she gets older, he can garnishee her wages and seize her property. unless she declares bankruptcy. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

In this particular case, the girl does seem somewhat unstable.
It seems to me that regardless of the girls age, the mere fact that she made a false police report regarding a serious criminal act against her person (clearly proven to be false through documentation provided by Mr. Caron) she should have been charged immediately with filing a false police report at the very least. Mr. Caron should never have had to go the extreme, not to mention the expense of having to fight to have the 'right' to sue his accuser. The measures are already in place to deal with this kind of nonsense. Frankly, where the hell were the Crown Counsel and the intake RCMP officer on this? They should have been right on this accuser and her guardian immediately. Ridiculous that this young man and his family and friends have had to endure this.

Cherie Paice