Sarah Thompson vs. Rob Ford – Sexual Assault or Borderline Defamation?

As reported by the National Post over these past few days, Ms. Sarah Thompson has accused Mr. Rob Ford of sexual assault.  One of the several articles can be found at the following:

http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/03/11/its-a-waste-of-time-sarah-thomson-on-why-she-wont-tell-police-about-rob-ford-incident/

In this latest article, Thompson stated that she is not going to seek criminal charges against Ford.

Whether she seeks an investigation into this, is for her to decide.  However, I wonder if this accusation comes too close to civil defamation.  Defamation, in Canada, is essentially “a communication about a person that tends to hurt the person’s reputation…The statement must be false to be classified as defamation.” (http://www.cba.org/bc/public_media/rights/240.aspx).  In one of more famous defamation cases, Hill v. Church of Scientology of Toronto, [1995] 2 S.C.R. 1130, Mr. Hill was awarded $1.6 Million by the jury for the Church’s defamation of Mr. Hill.  Libel is the written form of defamation, while slander is spoken.  There are a limited number of defences; truth being the most obvious.  Claiming that the statement was made under some sort of privilege (e.g. a Parliamentary privilege, for example) or they were merely a personal opinion, may also be used as defences.

But, in this case, I genuinely question whether or not Ms. Thompson’s statements would fit into any range of the available defences.  Certainly, she could claim truth – but, as she conceded, this defence then becomes an issue of proof.  In other words, she would have to prove her claim to be true – that Mr. Ford did, in fact, touch her behind during a photoshoot.

The moral of this story is simple: Freedom of Speech may be a constitutional right, but, like all rights, it comes with the price of responsibility.

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