Protecting Regulators from Defamation and Harassment

Regulators have to put up with a fair bit of criticism. In a free and democratic society, public interest bodies need to be open to scrutiny and disparagement. However, at some point such criticisms can cross a line such that the courts will intervene. That line was crossed in College of Pharmacists of Manitoba v Jorgenson, 2019 MBQB 87, <http://canlii.ca/t/j14jv>. A critic of the regulator accused it of being complicit in crimes by its inaction in preventing opioid drug overdoses of 24 indigenous people in northern Manitoba. The critic also accused the regulator of covering up its crimes. The accusations were broadly distributed and amounted to allegations of criminal behaviour. The critic attended at the regulator’s offices to pursue the matter and sent messages that were perceived as threatening (e.g., mentioning of home addresses) to family members of representatives of the regulator.

The regulator sued for defamation. It also sought an interim order preventing the critic from communicating with the regulator’s representatives and members of their families or from attending at the offices or at public meetings of the regulator. It also sought an order preventing the repetition of accusations against the regulator and its representatives. The Court indicated that such orders limiting free speech are rare. However, the order was granted in this case because the critic offered no evidence to substantiate the allegations, because no effective defence was raised and because the critic’s behaviour was, on an objective basis, emotionally distressing.

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