It is without dispute that the internet now serves as our primary source of communication. Despite this, our laws surrounding defamation (the act of tarnishing another’s good reputation) have failed to directly address online content.

Currently, we have the Liable and Slander Act – a piece of legislation written to remedy the harmful falsehoods published in newspapers and magazines and spoken in real-life public forums. As our lives became more digital, a patchwork of judicial decisions attempted to fill the gap and stretch the interpretation of the Liable and Slander Act to provide practical remedies for defamatory online communication. However, we are still without a unified approach to resolving online defamation disputes.

Enter the Law Commission of Ontario (“LCO”). In recognition of the challenges victims face in litigating online defamation, the LCO undertook a study of how Ontario’s defamation laws may be modernized. Last month, the LSO published their Report which includes the following key recommendations:

  • Ontario should introduce a new Defamation Act to promote access to justice and adapt defamation law to the realities of the internet. The new Act should include provisions:

    • Encouraging alternative dispute resolution of online defamation disputes;

    • Establishing a new notice regime for defamation complaints;

    • Establishing a “single publication rule”;

    • Establishing a two-year limitation period for defamation actions; and,

    • Expanding courts’ authority to order interlocutory injunctions to take down online content in limited, prescribed circumstances.

  • The new Defamation Act should also establish new legal responsibilities for internet platforms that host third-party content accessible to Ontarians. These duties should include obligations to:

    • Pass on notice of defamation complaints to online publishers; and,

    • Take down content if the publisher of the content does not respond to notice.

  • Internet platforms that do not fulfil these duties should be liable for court fines. In order to protect free expression, intermediary platforms should not be considered publishers where they passively host third party content.

If adopted, the recommendations would clarify the liability for those who host defamatory content and would ensure it can be removed (at least temporarily) while the dispute is being heard.

If you’ve been the victim of online defamation and unable to get a satisfactory remedy, contact your local Member of Provincial Parliament to let them know how a new Defamation Act could help people like you.