How I improved libel law: Mair

In June 2008, radio host Rafe Mair successfully fought off a libel lawsuit in a case that prompted the Supreme Court to set out standards of defamation. The case was surrounding comments Mair made on his radio show that used references to Nazi Germany and the Ku Klux Klan to criticize an activist who wanted to ban schoolbooks depicting same-sex parents.  

In one of his regular columns in B.C. online magazine The Tyee, Mair said he is happy he won, but feels for the plaintiff “because it shouldn’t take nine years, and I assume six figures worth of costs, to find out whether or not you’ve been libelled.” In the Tyee column, he describes the painful process of being sued and calls for a complete overhaul of the civil justice system.

The court ruling in the Mair case stated that “public controversy can be a rough trade and the law needs to accommodate its requirements.” An “overly solicitous regard for personal reputation,” the court added, should not be permitted “to ‘chill’ freewheeling debate on matters of public interest.”

Media lawyer Brian MacLeod Rogers wrote, in a J-Source column, that “nothing can be more important in a democracy than to have citizens feel that they can speak freely and openly about their views – however wrong-headed those views may seem to others.”