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Bullard v. Rogers Media Inc. 2020 ONSC 3084

By 2016 the plaintiff, Mike Bullard, had achieved considerable success as a comedian and radio personality. Between August of 2015 and April of 2016, Mr. Bullard was involved in a romantic relationship with another prominent member of the media, who was with City TV (owned by Rogers Media).

After the breakup of the relationship, in the fall of 2016, Mike Bullard faced criminal charges, including criminal harassment (under s. 264(2)(b) of the CCC), and a charge of harassing communications under s. 372(4) of the CCC. At a preliminary hearing, Mr. Bullard was discharged on the charge of criminal harassment, but was committed to trial on the harassing communications charge as well as other charges which related to his conduct following the laying of the initial charges. He subsequently pleaded guilty on June 8, 2018 to several of the charges, including the harassing communications charge. Both the laying of the criminal charges as well as his plea of guilty attracted considerable media attention.

Shortly following Mr. Bullard’s plea of guilty to the criminal charges, Chatelaine Magazine, on June 13, 2018, published an article based on an interview with the victim. Following publication of the article, Mr. Bullard brought an action for defamation against Rogers Media, which publishes Chatelaine as well as Sarah Boesveld, who was the author of the article and Christina Vardanis, who was the executive editor at Chatelaine and was responsible for editing the article.

Following delivery of their statement of defence, the defendants brought a motion pursuant to s. 137.1 of the Courts of Justice Act (the “anti-SLAPP” legislation) to dismiss the action.

The Chatelaine article focused on three areas: gendered harassment. the judicial system, and the need for reform of the judicial system to assist victims… the issues raised in this lawsuit relate to comments made about Mr. Bullard and the question which must be addressed is to what extent were the comments made about Mr. Bullard a matter of “public interest”.

“In my view, the comments are a matter of public interest as they relate to gendered based harassment which is a legitimate area for public concern. Further, while the private lives of well-known people are not on their own sufficient to render an essentially private matter public for purposes of defamation law, this case attracted considerable public notoriety and controversy from the time the charges were laid. The concerns with respect to Mr. Bullard’s behaviour therefore in my view fall within what is contemplated by “public interest” as reflected by Mr Bullard’s own comments to the press immediately following the court proceedings. The onus therefore shifts to the plaintiff to satisfy the court that the provisions of subsection (4) apply, failing which the proceeding must be dismissed.”

In this case, the defendants raised the defences of justification and fair comment.

The Court concluded that the plaintiff satisfied his burden of establishing that the defence of justification might not succeed.

The Court found that the test for the defence of fair comment was met.

The Court ruled that the plaintiff failed to establish that the harm he suffered was so serious that it outweighed the public interest in protecting the expression.