A recurring issue in online defamation cases is the proper jurisdiction where a claim should be commenced. In many cases, the people who read the allegedly defamatory statements will be located across the planet, meaning that a publisher of such materials may find themselves having to defend claims brought far away from their actual home jurisdiction.
In Goldhar v. Haaretz.com et al., Justice Faieta allowed an Ontario claim to continue for allegedly defamatory statements posted online by an Israeli-based newspaper organization. The defendants brought a motion to have the plaintiff’s claim stayed, arguing that the action should be heard in Israel, as the majority of the publication of the article was in Israel, and only 200-300 persons in Canada read the English online article.
The court ultimately concluded that it did have jurisdiction over the defendants, and the plaintiff’s claim could continue in Ontario. By finding that at least some persons in Ontario had read the article, the plaintiff therefore suffered damage to his reputation in Ontario, and therefore there is a presumption that Ontario courts could take jurisdiction over the matter, a presumption the defendants were not able to overcome.
The court then went on to examine whether Israel was nonetheless the more appropriate jurisdiction, based on the factors set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in Club Resorts Ltd. v. Van Breda. While the court acknowledged that there would be considerable expense to the defendants to having to litigate the Ontario claim from Israel, this could not overcome the other relevant factors, including that the article was written about an Ontarian and read by persons in Ontario, such that the defendants should not be surprised that Ontario would be a potential jurisdiction for litigation.
As a result, this case emphasizes that online defamation cases pose a unique ability to be properly heard in many foreign jurisdictions. Publishers of online material that may potentially be defamatory should consider that litigation could theoretically be brought against them in any jurisdiction where that material is read, which could potentially be anywhere in the world.