Veneruzzo v Storey 2018 ONCA 688

The respondents (plaintiffs in the action) are all close relatives of Jasmine Veneruzzo (“Ms. Veneruzzo”). Ms. Veneruzzo died in a car accident in December 2008. The appellant (defendant in the action) was driving the vehicle that struck Ms. Veneruzzo’s car. The appellant was charged with criminal negligence causing death, and eventually pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death in September 2012. In January 2013, he received a penitentiary sentence of two years. A related civil action was settled in 2015.

In June and July 2015, the appellant posted several comments on his Facebook page. Those comments referred to various things, including the accident that resulted in Ms. Veneruzzo’s death, her driving habits, the veracity of representations made about Ms. Veneruzzo in the proceedings, and the conduct of the respondents and other relatives of Ms. Veneruzzo in the aftermath of the accident.

The content of some of the posts led the respondents to commence an action for libel and related claims. The appellant filed a Statement of Defence in which he advanced the defences of truth, fair comment, and qualified privilege. At para. 18 of the Statement of Defence, he alleged that “the comments that form the basis of the Plaintiffs’ claim relate to matter [sic] of significant public interest.”

In June 2016, the appellant moved under s. 137.1 of the Courts of Justice Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C.43 (“CJA”) for an order dismissing the respondents’ action. He alleged that the claims made against him arose from expressions that he made on matters of public interest. He further argued that the respondents could not meet the criteria in s. 137.1(4).

The motion judge dismissed the motion, holding that the appellant had failed to demonstrate that his Facebook posts related to matters of public interest as required by s. 137.1(3). Having found that the appellant failed to meet that threshold requirement, the motion judge did not go on to consider the other requirements in s. 137.1(4).

In holding that the appellant had failed to show that the statements on his Facebook page related to a matter of public interest, the motion judge, at paras. 30-31, correctly relied on the analysis of “public interest” in Grant v. Torstar Corp., 2009 SCC 61, [2009] 3 S.C.R. 640: see 1704604 Ontario Ltd. v. Pointes Protection Association, 2018 ONCA 685, at para. 58 (released concurrently with these reasons).

The motion judge properly instructed himself on the law as it relates to the meaning of “public interest” in s. 137.1(3). I see no error in his finding that the appellant’s attempt to shift the blame for the accident to the deceased and her family did not constitute expression on a matter relating to the public interest. As the appellant had failed to meet his onus under s. 137.1(3), the motion judge properly dismissed the motion.