Defamation Law in Ontario

Defamation, in Ontario, refers to a statement that can damage someone’s reputation, and it can be in written (libel) or spoken (slander) form. This civil wrong can result in legal action if the statement causes harm to someone’s reputation and turns out to be false. Defamation can have dire consequences, such as loss of income, affect personal relationships, damage an individual’s or business’s reputation, and even lead to financial hardship. It’s essential to grasp defamation law in Ontario to safeguard your reputation and interests.


The importance of understanding defamation law in Ontario

Comprehending the defamation law in Ontario is crucial to safeguard oneself from the severe outcomes of spreading false accusations that can harm one’s character. Defamation can have detrimental impacts on both individuals and enterprises. For personal cases, reputation damage, strained relationships, and unemployment are some of the repercussions. Meanwhile, businesses can encounter brand damage, customer disappointment, and a possible financial downfall, or worse, bankruptcy, due to false allegations.

What is Defamation?

In simpler terms, defamation refers to a false statement about an individual, business, or organization that harms their reputation and is communicated to a third party. This can happen through spoken words (slander) or written content (libel) that is distributed to either the public or specific individuals. In Ontario, if the statement is proven to be untrue and has caused damage to a person or organization’s reputation, it can be considered a civil offense that can lead to legal consequences.

Types of defamation


When a false statement is made in a lasting form such as writing, printing, or digital means that can be seen by others, it is called libel. This can include expressions made through pictures, symbols, or any other form of representation that might hurt someone’s reputation. To qualify as libel in Ontario, the statement must be false, communicated to at least one other person either intentionally or carelessly, and caused harm to the person’s reputation, financial status, or job opportunities. Legal action can be taken against the individual or organization responsible for the defamatory statement.


Slander is a type of defamation that is spoken or transitory in nature, without any permanent record. It may take the form of spoken words, gestures, facial expressions, or other non-permanent means of communication. For the statement to be considered slanderous in Ontario, it must be false, and have been communicated to at least one third party either intentionally or negligently, and caused harm to the person’s reputation, financial hardship, or loss of opportunities.

Slanderous statements could include verbal statements made during a conversation, speeches, broadcasts or interviews. It is important to note that the harm caused by slander can be just as severe as libel, and victims of slander have similar legal rights and protections as those who have been subjected to libelous statements.

Defences to Defamation

Ontario provides individuals and organizations accused of defamation with various defenses that aim to safeguard freedom of expression, while also balancing this right with the right of entities to safeguard their reputation. A few frequently used defenses to defamation include:


Defendants can avoid liability for defamation by proving the truth of their statements. However, the responsibility of proving the truthfulness of the statement lies on the defendant.

Fair comment

When an individual gives their viewpoint on a topic of public significance, they have the option to use this defense. However, the statement must be truthful, sourced from factual information, and not driven by ill-intent to have a chance of being successful.


If a statement is made during a legal or parliamentary proceeding, or in other recognized circumstances where freedom of expression is important, a defendant may use privilege as a defense.

Innocent Dissemination

This defence is applicable when a person or a business is sued for spreading defamatory information that they were unaware of. To successfully utilize this defence, the defendant needs to prove that they had no knowledge of the defamatory content of the material that was published by them. The availability of these defences depends on various factors like the context of the statement and the circumstances of the case. Seeking legal advice is recommended to determine which defences are available to a defendant in a defamation case.

Remedies for Defamation

In Ontario, if a person or organization has been defamed, they may seek remedies to address the harm caused to their reputation. Some common remedies for defamation include:

Types of damages

If a person or organization’s reputation is harmed, they may receive monetary compensation. Compensation can come in two forms: general damages, which include non-economic losses like damage to reputation, embarrassment, and humiliation, and special damages, which include quantifiable economic losses like loss of income and profits.


If a person or organization’s reputation is harmed, they may receive monetary compensation. Compensation can come in two forms: general damages, which include non-economic losses like damage to reputation, embarrassment, and humiliation, and special damages, which include quantifiable economic losses like loss of income and profits.

Apologies and retractions

In defamation cases, the defendant might have to retract their defamatory statement and/or apologize. However, the remedies available will vary depending on the particular circumstances of the case, such as the extent and nature of the damages incurred. It’s advisable to seek legal counsel to identify the remedies that may apply in a defamation case and decide on the best course of action.

Limitation Periods in Defamation Cases

In Ontario, bringing a legal action for defamation comes with specific time constraints known as limitation periods. These periods indicate the duration within which a plaintiff must initiate action against a defendant, failing which they may lose their right to do so. For a defamation case in Ontario, the limitation period is two years from the date the plaintiff discovers the defamatory statement. However, if the plaintiff is unaware of the statement, the limitation period begins from the statement’s date. It’s worth noting that certain circumstances may warrant an extension of the limitation period, such as cases where the plaintiff was incapable of initiating legal action or where the defendant attempted to conceal the statement. Missing the limitation period is usually detrimental to a defamation case, and as such, it is advisable to seek legal assistance at the earliest indication of defamation by a person or organization.


Here’s a recap of important points to take away from this discussion on defamation law in Ontario:

  • Defamation is a statement that harms a person’s reputation, and can take many forms including libel and slander.
  • Defamation can have serious consequences for individuals and businesses, including damage to reputation, loss of income, and even financial hardship.
  • Understanding defamation law in Ontario is important to protect yourself from the serious consequences of false statements that harm your reputation.
  • Defences to defamation in Ontario include truth, fair comment, privilege, and innocent dissemination defence.
  • Remedies for defamation may include damages, injunctions, and retractions or apologies.
  • In Ontario, there are specific limitation periods for bringing a legal action for defamation, which is typically two years from the date the plaintiff became aware of the defamatory statement.
  • It’s important to seek legal advice if you believe you have been defamed, as missing the limitation period can be fatal for a defamation action.

Overall, understanding defamation law in Ontario empowers individuals and businesses with the knowledge to make informed decisions when facing situations that may involve defamation claims, and mitigates the risk of costly litigation and reputational damage.

  • Importance of seeking legal advice if you believe you have been defamed

If you believe that you have been defamed, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. Defamation law in Ontario is complex, and seeking legal advice can help you understand your rights and the options available to you. A lawyer experienced in defamation law can help in the following ways:

  1. Assessing potential claims: A lawyer can assess whether you have a viable claim for defamation and the potential remedies available.
  2. Negotiating a resolution: If appropriate, a defamation lawyer may be able to negotiate a resolution or settlement with the defendant, which can avoid the need for legal proceedings.
  3. Representing your interests in court: If a legal action is necessary, a lawyer can represent you in court and advocate for your interests.
  4. Guiding the process: A lawyer experienced in defamation law can guide you through the litigation process and help you make informed decisions throughout.

Overall, seeking legal advice if you believe that you have been defamed can help you protect your reputation and seek compensation for any damages suffered. Defamation claims can be complex, and having a lawyer on your side can give you the best chance for a successful outcome.

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