Defamation and Libel Primer

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In November of 2017, I published a piece titled “Defamation and Libel and Smears, oh my! In it, the meanings of defamation and libel were clearly covered. However, one of my readers asked me to re-clarify for him the differences in relation to another article, so here is the simpler primer.

In the Province of Ontario and across most of the civilized literate world, if you say something about someone that is true, it is NOT defamation. If you say something about someone that is false, but does not damage their character or reputation, it is NOT defamation.

The main difference between defamation and libel is that the former is in speech and the latter is in print. Print it in a newspaper or magazine or blog, and it’s libel.

So for example, if you write in a blog that a certain journalist does not have professional credentials and smear his reputation, and it turns out that the accusation is not true and you were using misinformation, that is libel. If you say those same false things in public or private, that is defamation. Now, if when discovering your error, you withdraw the offending accusation, and make a full and sincere apology for your error in print, you’re a decent human being. If not, there’s a rock waiting for you to crawl back under.

In a recent blog, I commented that a colleague of mine, a well-respected local reporter and editor, had written an insightful commentary about gun violence and bullying. In that editorial he asked for answers, to which I responded last week with an article titled “An Easy Answer for Bill.” Bill also published my shorter Letter to the Editor response in his paper last week.

In his original article, Bill confessed to having been part of a group in school that had bullied other students. One day one of the targets of his taunts threatened to kill Bill. The situation was resolved without violence, but being a man of good conscience, it made Bill reflect on, as he put it so eloquently, “trying to navigate through adolescence while crashing into people trying to do the same.”

When I concluded my editorial on how differently that could have ended in a high school in Florida, I commented, “Just be grateful, Bill, that the boy you bullied in school didn’t carry an AR-15.”

Now, for my challenged reader, although this gave a fine opportunity to clarify the difference between defamation and libel (and compliment Bill on his eloquence) there is nothing even remotely associated with either defamation or libel in my editorial. Learning to read and comprehend is such a valuable skill.  These editorials are written for graduate level readers. According to the good old Flesch-Kincaid analyzer, the Star and Globe & Mail and National Post all come in at upper high school levels. On the other hand, the Sun is at a Middle School level and may be easier to understand for some – it uses a lot of pictures.

In summary, it is defamation if spoken, libel if printed, and neither if the words are true.

And, dear reader, I’m still waiting for that full and sincere apology.


Skid Crease, Caledon,

Member in good standing with the Canadian Association of Journalists

* image from


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Seriously, that is the handle on a non-existent email address from an ANONYMOUS reply to my last entry on Truth and the Press. We actually had a productive conversation going until I my “peeps” alerted me to who it was, and the ANONYMOUS replier bailed into cyber space.

As one literate friend cautioned me, “If they’re anonymous with a fake e-mail don’t even respond.” And yet, the initial back and forth was a good discussion. We do believe in a diversity of opinions as long as they are well informed opinions. “Well informed” means that the facts do not come from Fox News or Breitbart or Chicken Little, but from an authentic source,. I still go with the 3P’s – practicing, published, and peer reviewed .

It was when I asked the anonymous replier for whom she or he was speaking, that it all broke down. “The people,” was the reply.

Now that set off all of my “El -Toro Pooh Pooh” detectors. There is no phrase so odious as “I speak for the people” other than “I do this for the good hard working taxpayers of Canada”, or “Trust me, I’m an Olympic gymnastics doctor,”

Someone who hides behind a fake email address and anonymous identity is a TROLL – and a bad one at that. Ugly and hiding under a bridge. The way I see it.


Skid Crease, Caledon

Caledon’s Integrity and Conduct

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originally written for: Just Sayin’ Caledon, 7:00 p.m.


There is a very good reason why we have an Integrity Commissioner in Caledon. It is mandated by the Province of Ontario. No choice, no discussion, no debate – we now have our own Integrity Commissioner. And it is no easy job being tasked with the wisdom of Solomon, especially when political aspirations get in the way of reasonable judgements. “Here, you take the sword and cut the baby in half,” are not words sweet to the ears of politicians in the #metoo age.

The Province mandated Integrity Commissioner roles and Codes of Conduct for Municipal Council because of so much bad behaviour, usually from developer interests interfering with fair play, but often just from inappropriate human bickering. Thus a Code of Conduct was mandated for all Municipal Councils – this is NOT a discussion item.

What is a valid discussion item is the detail behind each Municipal Code of Conduct. As is included in tonight’s Town of Caledon agenda, are there ambiguities that need to be addressed? What would make it easier for an Integrity Commissioner to do her or his job?

For example, if a local politician told the CAO of a Town to “F__k Off” would that be a violation of a “workplace free from harassment and degrading language” policy? And what would be the consequences – mouth washed out with Sunlight soap?

Some may argue that the cost of an Integrity Commissioner and the cases she or he has to hear are a burden to the taxpayer. Well, welcome to the world of Donald Trump. A megalomaniac dictator is cheap. An ignorant aggressive narcissistic personality is a lot costlier in the long run. Besides, the Integrity Commissioner’s salary is already worked out in the local budget. If there are no complaints to address, that salary still gets paid, So if local politicians mind their Ps and Qs, there is no additional charge to the taxpayer.

It would be interesting for the residents of Caledon to find out how many complaints have been filed with the Integrity Commissioner and by which complainants against which respondents, and how many have resulted in cases being carried forward by the Integrity Commissioner. And how those found guilty of violations of the Code, as ambiguous as it may be at this point in time, have improved their behaviour or not.

Refer, for example, to the York Region Board of Education’s policy on Respectful Workplace and Learning Environment (apologies for the spacing – it is an educational document):

. “All staff, students, trustees and community members of the York Region District School Board are responsible for:

●  creating and maintaining an inclusive learning and working environment that is free from harassment and discrimination and respectful of human rights;

●  being aware of their rights and responsibilities under the Respectful Workplace and Learning Environment policy and related procedure;

●  discussing and/or reporting alleged or suspected harassment, discrimination and human rights situations and concerns with a superintendent, principal, manager or supervisor, where appropriate;

●  understanding and adhering to the human rights complaint process as outlined in the Respectful Workplace and Learning Environment procedure;

●  where appropriate, discussing concerns with the other party/parties prior to filing a formal complaint in an effort to address and resolve concerns at the earliest possible stage;

●  participating in a Ministry of Labour Visit and/or Investigation related to workplace harassment, as required;

●  being aware of and sensitive to issues of discrimination and harassment and taking proactive steps to ensure the human rights of all individuals are respected and maintained;

●  demonstrating professional and respectful behaviour;

●  cultivating and maintaining inclusive learning and working Environment and services; and

●  conducting themselves in an appropriate and respectful manner that meets all applicable codes of
ethics, codes of conduct and standards of practice of the Board.”

Yes, if we expect this for our children and teachers, It might not be a bad ethic to pass on to our politicians. Imagine – professional and respectful behaviour.

It would be interesting for the residents of Caledon to find out how many complaints have been filed with the Integrity Commissioner over he past four year term and by which complainants against which respondents, and how many have resulted in cases being carried forward by the Integrity Commissioner. And how those found guilty of violations of the Code, as ambiguous as it may be at this point in time, have improved their behaviour or not.
.In other words, everything we need to know, we learned in kindergarten. Play respectfully and responsibly Councillors, or take a time out from the Municipal playground. Yes, democracy and justice are expensive, as any dictator will tell you. We are fortunate to have an Integrity Commissioner of the quality of John Fleming – we just need to live up to the Code, and tighten it up.
. The way I see it.
. ***
. Skid Crease, Caledon

A Tale of Two Papers

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Note: a modification of this article first appeared in


Like the classic Dickens’ novel begins:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.…”

Charles Dickens was talking about 1780’s Paris and London, but he could just as easily have included my little home town of Caledon. The best of times are when I meet some of the most intelligent, empathetic, talented people in the country right here in my own community. The worst of times are when I encounter the misogynist, racist, ignorant “good old boys” club ranting in a family restaurant (see my blog stories).

Recently, it was the best of times when the Town’s Integrity Commissioner handed down his ruling on the behaviour and actions of a certain Councillor. It was accepted by Council along with the necessary consequences. That should have been the end of the story. But then we were reminded about the worst of times, when a local newspaper pulled the scab off a wound that was just starting to heal.

We should be looking to an intelligent press to bring us valid community news, educate us ethically on critical issues of importance, and keep us informed of opportunities for public input into community matters that concern us. I would ask our citizens to judge the level of commitment to these goals as seen clearly this past week in the two local newspapers that serve our community.

To be fair, both community newspapers regularly give us advance notice of public meetings, by-law changes, and all notices distributed by the Town. Beyond that, they are as different as night and day. Take the April 20, 2017 issues for example.

One paper’s front page features a group of children taking part in an Easter egg hunt, with the cover story about a school closing; the other paper headlines: “Councillor docked pay in breach of Code complaints”, with that as the front page story. The difference in our two community papers couldn’t be clearer – one is “share and ahhh”; the other is “shock and awe.” As a Star reporter once told me when I challenged why there weren’t more good news stories on the front page, he answered, “It’s not our job to report every safe landing at Pearson.”

Our Easter Egg newspaper, let’s call it Paper One, seems to highlight good news, albeit still publishing a far right wing column by Claire Hoy, once dubbed “Bill O’Reilly north.”  The other paper, we’ll call it Paper Two, seems to have taken a more sensational approach to the news, and a more confrontational stand against the Town and our public servants.

For example, after the last public Town Council meeting, when the Integrity Commissioner handed down his ruling on the misbehaviour of a Town Councillor, prescribing pecuniary costs and a requirement for retraining, Paper Two asked the totally irrelevant and way past its due date for freshness question: “Do you think Coun. Shaughnessy is guilty of violating the Code of Conduct?” and for its readers to respond at

WTF! Hold the Presses! The Report of the Integrity Commissioner is final. The Council has received the report. This is not up for discussion or a public commentary! Whether the generally uninformed public thinks the good Councillor is guilty or not is irrelevant. She has been judged and found wanting. Period. Move on.

Normally, asking the public to participate in any information gathering of the community pulse is a fine idea. But what happens when the question asked is both irrelevant and past its due date?

For example, “Do you think that the Archangel Lucifer was guilty of rebelling against God?” or “Do you think that Prometheus was guilty of stealing fire from the Olympian Gods?” or “Do you think that Donald Smith got drunk after he hammered the last spike to complete the Canadian Pacific Railway?”

Seriously, none of us were there and it was all a long time ago. Some days we’re in heaven, other days are hell, we have fire, and a railway runs coast to coast. Irrelevant and past due date. Move on.

What possible community good could be served by asking such a question of the Paper Two’s readership?  OK, if you have read the complete Report by the Integrity Commissioner, and if you fully understand the role of the Integrity Commissioner and the Ontario Ombudsman,  and if you have read every public document related to this case, and if you are aware that on April 30, 2015 the same Councillor was disciplined by Peel Region for similar misbehaviour and publically apologized (all on record with the Peel Region clerk), and if you were in attendance on the day the Report was handed down and received by Council, then maybe you can cast a legitimate YES or NO … but still irrelevant.

The Councillor has been found in violation of the Code of Conduct, and has been given the appropriate sanctions; she now has the choice to change behaviour or face more onerous repercussions.

Whether the newspaper survey thinks she is guilty or not doesn’t matter in the slightest. We deserve intelligent questions that are relevant and current. Otherwise we get garbage in, garbage out.

We deserve better!


Skid Crease, Caledon

Stephen & the Amazing Technicolour Snow Job

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Every once in a while, a mainstream media journalist captures the moment perfectly. Enter Thomas Walkom with an op ed piece in the Wednesday, August 21, Star titled: Harper plays it for laughs again with stealthmobile. Rather than become angry over the absolute absurdity of another summer of broken promises in the far North, Walkom pulled a Rick Mercer with true Canadian satire dripping from his keyboard.

StealthIt helped me to laugh at an otherwise infuriating situation with a media entourage capturing photo op images of the PM (like this Chris Wattie Reuter's photo in the Globe) while he spewed more methane than melting permafrost in the tundra. Where are the previously promised icebreakers? Where are the previously promised high tech centres? Where are the previously promised Arctic sovereignty military bases? Lots of resource based economics announcements, but where was any mention of toxic breast milk, suicide, drug abuse and social justice inequities? Walkom diffuses the angry confusion by explaining that it was all a joke, that the Prime Minister's "mischievious sense of humour" fools even his ministers who sometimes think he is serious about these proposals.

It is only later, back in the PMO, where illegal Senate payout cheques are cut, that the truth emerges from the Arctic darkness like a stealth snowmobile.Thank goodness for that fiesty Chinese journalist – no, Li, don't apologize to the Conservative manhandlers – we just wish our media had done the same.

And Stephen, thanks for the laughs. Stealth snowmobiles in a rapidly warming Arctic – really, you are such a joker. Can't wait to see the musical.


Skid Crease, Caledon