July 25, 2017
United Soils Management Ltd v Mohammed 2017 ONSC 4450
The defendant, Katie Mohammed, is a resident of Whitchurch-Stouffville, and became concerned when the local council voted to amend an agreement it had with the plaintiff, United Soils Management, who operate a gravel pit in the area.
The gravel pit is near Musselman’s Lake on the Oak Ridges Moraine and is well know as a sensitive geological area which is the source of drinking water for much of the City of Toronto.
The amendment allowed for the deposition, in the site, of “acceptable fill from small quantity source sites and hydro-excavation trucks [i.e. hydrovac trucks].”
In September 2016 Ms. Mohammed was shown a list of tweets concerning the Council meeting. The tweets indicated that two members of the Council were concerned about the risk posed by what these trucks might deposit in the site. The town has a history of involvement with contaminated soil. In 1983 it fought to close down a contaminated dumping site. Ms. Mohammed became concerned that the amended agreement could lead to contaminated material finding its way into the pit. As a result she place certain posts on the internet.
Counsel for United Soils Management wrote a letter to Ms. Mohammed saying her texts were “false, malicious and defamatory” statements about his client. The letter demanded that she cease making further statements, deliver a retraction to all the recipients of the texts and apologize.
Ms. Mohammed acceded to the demands, however, United Soils Management sued her anyway, seeking damages of $120,000.
In the decision, in dismissing the defamation action against Ms. Mohammed, Justice Lederer states:
Section 137.1 of the Courts of Justice Act does more than make plain the desire that people be encourage to take part in our public debates without fear of unwarranted reprisal in our courts and authorizing the Court to hear motions to deal summarily with such actions. It also provides guidance as to how, or the basis on which, such motions are to be decided.
In making the legislative changes that authorize this motion the legislature has indicated that the objective that citizen[s] be able to take part in public discourse without a general fear of being sued is a demonstration that the encouragement of freedom of speech as a value is to outweigh the accompanying private harm.