A British Columbia judge wrongly decided three National Post writers defamed a prominent climate scientist, and a new trial is required to fix the errors, according to the British Columbia Court of Appeal.
Andrew Weaver won a $50,000 judgment in B.C. Supreme Court in 2015 after accusing the newspaper of defaming him in four articles by three authors published in late 2009 and early 2010.
In the case brought by Andrew Weaver, now leader of the British Columbia Green Party, the trial judge’s key mistake was to determine the allegedly defamatory meaning of four separate articles by reading them together, as a whole, and then assigning joint liability to all the authors, the court ruled Friday.
“For Dr. Weaver to establish a cause of action based on a combined reading of the articles he needed to rely on extended defamatory meaning by innuendo, and to prove joint liability with respect to its publication,” reads the judgment, written by Madam Justice Gail Dickson on behalf of a unanimous three-judge panel. “In sum, in my view, the judge’s erroneous approach to combined defamatory meanings was pervasive and inextricable from her individual findings.”
The decision overturns the 2015 finding of defamation, for which the Post was ordered to publish a retraction and pay Weaver $50,000. No retrial has been scheduled.
“Fair comment for columnists and opinion writers is a pillar of journalism and we feared the original judgment could have had a chilling effect,” said Anne Marie Owens, the Post’s editor-in-chief. “We are delighted with this ruling, and will continue to fight for important press freedoms.”
“We are very pleased with the victory and happy that the errors in the trial judgment will be corrected,” said Dan Burnett, a lawyer who represents the Post.
The Post was unable to reach Weaver on Friday.