The internet has become fertile ground for consumers to post about their positive and negative experiences with local businesses. Websites such as Google and Yelp are designed to give customers a taste of a business before they attend or try the service themselves.
People may think they can post reviews with immunity. A recent decision from British Columbia tells us otherwise.
Rosa Campagne Deck underwent breast augmentation surgery with Dr. Brian Peterson, a plastic surgeon. She was unhappy with the outcome and posted her dissatisfaction on her personal blog and Google Reviews. In response, Dr. Peterson filed a defamation suit alleging that the online reviews were defamatory. The British Columbia Supreme Court agreed and ordered Ms. Deck to pay Dr. Peterson $300,000 in damages plus costs.
The Court acknowledged that freedom of expression is a guarantee under Canadian law, however noted that a good reputation fosters one’s sense of self-worth and, as an aspect of personality, is related to the innate worthiness and dignity of the individual” and therefore also ’an underlying value’ of the very same Charter.
Despite finding that the blogger’s comments were defamatory in this instance, the Court acknowledged that blogs and review websites can serve an important public interest. However, they need to be balanced with protecting service providers and the need for valid lawsuits. Justice Weatherall stated, “the weighing exercise necessitates that some defendants will occasionally have to defend against lawsuits claiming damages for expressions that relate to matters of public interest. This is one of those cases”. Referring to the posts of Ms. Deck, Justice Weatherall stated, “In my view, a reasonable person knowing the proven background facts could not honestly express the opinions set out in the posts. Moreover, the Posts contain defamatory statements of fact that cannot be justified”.
This decision serves as an important reminder to be careful what we post online. While we are granted freedom of expression and freedom of speech in Canada, there are limitations to those rights. If you intend on posting a review about a business or service provider, be sure that your posts are accurate. As the Court held in Deck v Peterson, “…defamatory comments dressed up as reviews that are not factual or do not qualify as fair comment are subject to the laws of defamation”.
If you feel you have been injured as a result of the negligence of another, contact Bergeron Clifford LLP today.
Casey Dorey is an associate lawyer at Bergeron Clifford LLP. He works primarily in Kingston but travels across Eastern Ontario.