Canadaland Loses Bid to Have Defamation Suit Dismissed

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Image Depositphotos.com
Image Depositphotos.com

There was a significant ruling in the Canadian legal world involving Jesse Brown, the publisher of the website and podcast series called Canadaland.

It relates to a defamation case brought forward by Theresa Kielburger (the mother of Marc and Craig Kielburger, the founders of WE Charity), against Brown and other reporters from Canadaland.

Brown and Canadaland have been obsessed with WE Charity and Kielburger family for many years – long before they were forced into the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic when they were chosen by the Government of Canada to run the ill-fated Canada Student Service Grant program.

During a podcast that aired in the aftermath of the CSSG affair, Brown and a reporter named Isabel Vincent (now of the New York Post) accused Mrs. Kielburger of diverting donations to Free the Children (the original name of WE Charity) to the family.

In doing so, the podcast repeated libels that first appeared in a Saturday Night magazine article written by Vincent in 1996 in which Mrs. Kielburger was portrayed as a controlling parent leveraging her 13-year-old son’s fame for her own benefit.

No facts were provided to back up the false assertions, so the Kielburgers asked for a retraction, which was not granted. As a last resort, the family sued Vincent and the magazine, and eventually the magazine settled out of court for a very significant sum.

In 2021, Canadaland aired a podcast series called The White Saviors, which regurgitated many past and since disproven attacks on the Charity and the Kielburger family. During one episode, Brown interviewed Vincent and went out of his way to ask questions about the Saturday Night piece. Brown quoted Vincent about the same original about Mrs. Kielburger.

In response, the elderly Mrs. Kielburger filed a statement of claim against Vincent, Brown, Canadaland and its reporters (Jarren Kerr and Jonathan Goldsbie, Mark Slutsky, Olusola Adeogun, and Kieran Oudshoorn).

Brown and his lawyers tried to get the case thrown out via an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) motion, which is a common tool defendants use to have defamation suits dismissed.

However, following a hearing in April before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Canadaland’s motion was denied, which allows the defamation case to proceed to trial.

This is a significant step in the case because, as lawyer and journalist Mark Bourrie pointed out on Twitter/X, “SLAPP motions are a big hurdle in defamation cases,” meaning that Canadian law sets a high bar to overcome to deter frivolous defamation suits from being filed.

In other words, it’s a highly damaging outcome for Brown and Canadaland. Not only will the case now proceed to trial, but the defendants were ordered to pay Mrs. Kielburger’s legal costs related to the anti-SLAPP motion.

In his ruling, the presiding judge, Justice E.M. Morgan, wrote of the strong case presented by Mrs. Kielburger, writing “there is reason to believe that there is substantial merit in the claim against Brown and Canadaland… in addition, there is no reason to believe that Brown and Canadaland have any valid defence.”

Justice Morgan also took time in his ruling to point out Brown’s disregard for Mrs. Kielburger during the hearing process, writing “Brown’s sarcasm with respect to the impact of his words on the Plaintiff suggests that there is little public benefit to be gained or serious public interest in his portrayal of her.”

Further, Justice Morgan addressed Brown’s callousness, writing “… from Brown’s point of view the Plaintiff’s feelings are worth nothing; he was only concerned to cover himself and his company … The fact that he was speaking about the Plaintiff, and imposing personal pain on the Plaintiff by repeating an allegation about her that he was aware had been seriously contested, if not established as entirely false, was seen by him as irrelevant.”

Regarding Brown’s testimony when he was cross-examined on his affidavit for the SLAPP motion, Justice Morgan found: “The cynicism of Brown’s explanation not only accentuates the defamatory sting of his words, but could be considered high handed and oppressive …”

None of this bodes well for Brown, who, ironically, portrays himself chiefly as a critic of Canadian media.

Bourrie, who is also a Canadian media critic, has written several times about Brown’s eagerness to attack other journalists when he deems they aren’t playing by the rules. But now that he himself has been sanctioned by the courts, Brown has gone quiet.

In his own analysis of Justice Morgan’s ruling, Bourrie wrote “This week’s decision… is a good indication of how this case will be decided at trial. It’s a crushing rebuke that would shake up any journalist who had some integrity, the kind of judicial reprimand that would end the careers of most journalists.”

A date for the trial has not yet been determined.

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