Jury uses new defence, dismisses libel suit against news site, police

In one of the first uses of a new journalistic defence, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has dismissed a
multimillion-dollar libel suit
brought forward by a former accountant
against news site SooToday.com and the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service.

Kofi Hadjor, a former Toronto chartered accountant, alleged that a fraud
alert issued by Police and posted on SooToday.com contained defamatory
errors. Hadjor was convicted ten years ago of defrauding clients in the
film and entertainment industry.

The jury ruled that that alert was true and the “errors not significant
enough to materially injure Hadjor’s reputation”, SooToday.com reports.

The judge, Super Court Justice Edward Koko, noted that the case is one of the first jury cases to use the new journalistic defence of responsible communication, which was established last December by the Supreme Court of Canada. The defence is available to journalists that can prove they have used due diligence to verify information that serves the public interest. SooToday.com provided evidence that between 20 and 30 sources were consulted for their report.

SooToday.com reports:

“Publication of the alert by Rollin and City Police was protected by the defence of qualified privilege because police had a duty to issue the alert and the business community had a corresponding interest in receiving it, Sault lawyer John Walker successfully argued.

“Testimony during the two-week trial at the Sault Ste. Marie Court House indicated that Hadjor was interested in buying and renovating Salzburger Hof Resort at Batchawana Bay and the Buckeye resort.

“He hoped to persuade charities serving the Canadian poor to send 1,000 staffers to Batchawana at a cost of at least $3,700 each, to listen to presentations by Hadjor, learn how to access government funding and participate in local eco-tourism activities including the Agawa Canyon Tour Train.

“An independent analysis of the plan, commissioned by SooToday.com from BDO Dunwoody, cast doubt on its viability.”