Graham v Star Phoenix 2017 SKQB 42

Dr. Kenneth Graham commenced a libel action in 2009 against Chris Purdy, and other employees and Canwest Publishing Inc. alleging that the defendants, acting alone or in concert, had published defamatory comments about him in a series of articles in the Star Phoenix and on websites owned by the newspaper and Canwest Publishing Inc. As a result of the publication of these defamatory comments, Dr. Graham said that he suffered loss and damage to his professional and civic reputation and that such loss or damage would continue into the future in light of his professional standing.

Prior to the trial commencing, Postmedia Network Inc. purchased Canwest Publishing Inc. and/or its assets including the Star Phoenix. Leave was granted to add Postmedia Network Inc. as a defendant in the case.

Dr. Graham took issue with seven articles published by the Star Phoenix which covered a trial in which Dr. Graham was accused of negligence as a result of his treatment of a patient. At the conclusion of the trial Dr. Graham was found not negligent in the case.

On the issue of malice, the journalist who wrote the articles, Chris Purdy, argued that she felt she was doing her job and was providing fair and balanced reporting during Dr. Graham’s trial.

Both parties in this proceeding called expert witnesses. Dr. Graham called John Miller (Professor Emeritus at Ryerson University). The defendants called Patricia Bell (professor at the University of Regina, School of Journalism).

[206]Both parties called expert witnesses in this case. Both experts were eminently qualified journalists in their own right. Both Mr. Miller and Ms. Bell agreed on a number of points including that some of the articles written by Ms. Purdy fell short of meeting journalism’s recognized professional standards of care. However where the experts differ, I prefer Mr. Miller’s testimony over that of Ms. Bell…”

[208] As I consider what is an appropriate award for general damages in this case, I am also surprised at the lack of editorial oversight of Ms. Purdy’s articles…

[220] …I am additionally led to the inescapable conclusion that Ms. Purdy did not believed that the jury had reached the proper verdict in the Baert (negligence) case. Rather than properly reporting on the jury’s verdict, Ms. Purdy deliberately chose to report on other people who had made complaints about the surgical care Dr. Graham provided them…I am satisfied that Ms. Purdy published the words complained of by Dr. Graham with reckless indifference as to their truth and as such, malice is made out.”

[222] In my view, given these findings, an award of $50,000 for aggravated damages is appropriate.”