In Paramount v. Johnston, 2018 ONSC 3711 (CanLII), the Ontario Court considered whether to dismiss a defamation claim based on the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) provision of the Court of Justice Act (section 137). We have previously blogged on the new anti-SLAPP provision: see our earlier post “Court Awards Damages to Defendant in Defamation Case”.
In Paramount v. Johnston, the plaintiff company operates a number of middle-eastern restaurants. The plaintiff company was owned by the individual plaintiffs. The plaintiff company was hosting a fundraiser organised for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. A protest had been organised outside the restaurant to coincide with the fundraiser. The defendants alleged that they attended at the restaurant for the protest. The defendants allegedly defamed the plaintiffs in a total of eight videos taken on the day of the protest.
One of the defendants brought a motion to dismiss the claim against him based on the anti-SLAPP provision. The defendant argued that his only statement (7.5 seconds on one of the eight videos) was regarding a matter of public interest protected by the anti-SLAPP provision.
The Judge disagreed. The Court stated, among other things, that when analysing whether a statement is regarding a matter of “public interest”, the focus is on the substance of the expression and not the “occasion” or the circumstances in which it is communicated. The Judge considered the defendant’s statement in the context of all eight videos. While some of the eight videos referred to matters in the public interest, the defendant’s statement specifically referred to the plaintiffs. The Judge stated that the mere fact that a statement was uttered in a forum or at an event where matters of public interest are being discussed does not make the statement a matter of public interest. The Judge dismissed the defendant’s anti-SLAPP motion.