The Right to Incite a Boycott
Par Sarah D. Pinsonnault, avocate
Par Sarah D. Pinsonnault
The fundamental freedom of expression includes the right to incite a boycott, since it allows members of the public to conduct themselves in an informed manner and promotes rational discourse. However, for those who happen to be the subject of the boycott, such as the plaintiff in RNC Média inc. c. Jacob (2013 QCCS 6388), their recourses may appear to be scarce for any legal action taken can easily be labelled a SLAPP (“Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”).
The plaintiff runs several radio stations, whereby three of which, known as “Radio X”, are the subject of harsh criticism from the defendants. The defendants are of the opinion that the messages expressed by their announcers, consisting mainly of news commentary, are of a hateful nature.
Accordingly, the defendants denounced the announcers’ actions and encouraged others to boycott Radio X via various websites. Boycott campaigns, such as “Coalition sortons les poubelles” and “Coalition sortons les radios poubelles de Saguenay”, were thus mounted against the plaintiff and the defendants were alleged to have been at the helm of these.
The plaintiff therefore filed for damages and an application for an injunction against the defendants seeking, inter alia, the cessation of the abovementioned boycott campaigns.
The case at bar is a preliminary motion in which the defendants are asking for the dismissal of the plaintiff’s action pursuant to articles 54.1 et seq. of the Code of Civil Procedure. They submit that the action is improper in two ways. First, that it is “clearly unfounded” in fact since no link was made between the defendants and the alleged faulty actions. Secondly, they contend that it is an attempt to “defeat the ends of justice” by restricting their freedom of expression in public debate.
With respect to the defendants’ first argument, the Court found that there was sufficient evidence linking the defendants to the online boycott material to allow for the trial proceedings. The exact level of their involvement will therefore have to be determined by the trial judge.
In regard to the second ground for dismissal, the Court recognized, as did the Supreme Court of Canada in U.F.C.W., Local 1518, v. KMart Canada Ltd.,  2 SCR 1083, that promoting a boycott falls within the purview of s. 2(b) of the Canadian Charter. Therefore, the plaintiff’s action technically imposes a limit on their freedom of expression.
However, in citing Acadia Subaru c. Michaud, 2011 QCCA 1037, the Court stressed the fact that the analysis of the impropriety of the action must not be limited to its effects but also take into account the plaintiff’s motivation for conduct:
“ Il ne suffit donc pas de constater que l’effet de la poursuite est de limiter la liberté d’expression, dans le cadre d’un débat public. Les défendeurs doivent, dans une première étape, démontrer sommairement que la demande de RNC constitue un abus, notamment en ce que RNC tente de détourner les fins de la justice. »
While acknowledging the defendants’ right to freedom of expression, the plaintiff nevertheless purports that their conduct does not constitute a valid exercise of freedom of expression carried out by lawful means. The plaintiff alleges, inter alia, that the methods used by the defendants to incite a boycott are inaccurate, defamatory and unlawful. What the plaintiff therefore seeks is that the defendants exercise their freedom of expression within the limits prescribed by law.
Ultimately, the Court dismissed the defendants’ preliminary motion pursuant to articles 54.1 et seq. CPC, which can be read as follows:
” De l’avis du Tribunal, le recours de la demanderesse soulève de sérieuses questions concernant les limites à la liberté d’expression, en tenant pour avérés les faits allégués par RNC. On ne saurait conclure à un abus ni à un détournement des fins de la justice justifiant le rejet des demandes.
 Par ailleurs, et ce fait est important, les défendeurs ont, tour à tour, consenti à se conformer à plusieurs des conclusions interlocutoires recherchées par la demanderesse dans le cadre des demandes de sauvegarde.
 Dans un tel contexte, il apparaît paradoxal que les défendeurs plaident le caractère manifestement abusif de la demande. Il ne s’agit pas d’une situation où le Tribunal aurait imposé une ordonnance de sauvegarde à la suite d’un débat et pour une durée contestée.
POUR CES MOTIFS, LE TRIBUNAL:
 REJETTE les requêtes en rejet d’action des défendeurs.
 LE TOUT, frais à suivre l’issue. ”
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