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mercredi 3 décembre 2014

Those Who Claim to Be Victims of Defamation Must Make Sure to Identify Who the Defamatory Statements Target

By Sarah D. Pinsonnault

In Singer c. Yorulmaz, 2014 QCCS 5536, the Defendant used the online services provided by a corporation (“Corporation”) with the hopes of immigrating to Canada. The Plaintiff acted on behalf of the Corporation as its legal counsel. Following a disagreement between the Plaintiff and the Defendant that led to the termination of the lawyer-client relationship, the latter decided to voice her dissatisfaction with the Corporation’s services on a consumer review website. The Plaintiff responded by instituting a defamation lawsuit against the Defendant, in which he claimed $100,000 for moral damages and $25,000 for punitive damages. His action was nevertheless dismissed because there was no legal relationship between the Defendant and himself. In fact, although the services may have been performed by the Plaintiff, the alleged defamatory remarks targeted the Corporation.

“[11] It is to be noted that at no time did the Defendant directly criticized the Plaintiff, either individually or in his quality as a lawyer.  Her complaint is directed against a website and the Plaintiff’s name only appears at the bottom of two e-letters annexed to the complaint where he identifies as a lawyer acting for a corporation […] In other words, the Defendant criticizes the procedure used by the website […] and not the Plaintiff personally.
[…]
[19] The said letter, although signed by the Plaintiff, also demonstrates that the Plaintiff is acting in his capacity as lawyer and legal counsel to his client […] Consequently, it is clear that when the Plaintiff blames and/or criticizes the attitude of the website, she acts against the client of the lawyer and not the lawyer himself.  Whether the Plaintiff is the sole beneficial owner of the said corporation makes no difference.  The Corporation should have taken this action.
 […]
[22] In my respectful view, the action of the Plaintiff must be dismissed for this reason.  There is no legal connexity or “lien de droit” between the Plaintiff and the Defendant.
[…]
[24] The legal barriers between the operation of his businesses, on the one part, and his role as attorney or legal counsel of his client, on the other part, creates an advantage but this advantage comes with certain drawbacks.  If the Plaintiff wishes to benefit from such corporate protection, he must also live with the fact that the Corporation and himself are not the same “person”.
[25] Consequently, the Plaintiff’s action msut [sic] be dismissed […]”

Commentary

This decision serves as a reminder to sole directors/shareholders of corporations that although their interests may be intrinsically linked to those of their corporations, the latter remain separate legal entities. Consequently, an attack on the corporation’s reputation does not render it a personal attack on the sole director/shareholder’s reputation.


To read this decision in its entirety and other elements addressed therein, click here.

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