Supreme Court rules radio host comments “racist”, blocks class action suit

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled 6-1 on the free-speech case of former radio shock jock André Arthur, now a member of Parliament for the Quebec City riding of Portneuf-Jacques-Cartier.

In her ruling for Farès Bou Malhab v. Diffusion Métromédia CMR inc., et al. (Supreme Court of Canada), Justice Marie Deschamps deemed Arthur’s 1998 comments about Arab and Haitian cab drivers “scornful and racist”, but also dismissed a class-action suit against him.

Postmedia’s Mike De Souza
writes that “The comments attacked taxi drivers of Arab and Haitian origin, accusing them of uncleanliness, arrogance, incompetence, corruption and ignorance of official languages in Canada. Arthur also referred to Creole as ‘speaking n—–‘ and described the drivers of Arab origin as ‘fakirs.'”

The judge dismissed the class action suit launched by Farès Bou Malhab, then president of the taxi driver’s union, claiming that the remarks wouldn’t necessarily sway the opinion of an ordinary person.

“He made fun of and even ridiculed them (drivers of Arab and Haitian origin),” wrote Justice Marie Deschamps. “His comments were scornful and racist, as has been found by all the courts that have had to consider them. It is thus easy to understand why the taxi drivers who were called to testify at the hearing said they were hurt by those comments, but this is a subjective perception, not the perception of the ordinary person.”

The Financial Post‘s Drew Hasselback wrote that the judge’s ruling notes that “the law of defamation is a tool for protecting personal reputation and needs to keep pace with the importance attached by society to freedom of expression.”