Governments May Not Sue Critics

I’m trying to reorganize my office, and while sorting through materials, I came across a document that I want to keep and that should be better known by the public and journalists in particular.
     This document is the finding of an Ontario judge about a defamation suit by a municipal government against a local Internet news provider. The details of this 2006 case are not important. The judge’s findings are.
     J. Corbett of the Superior Court of Justice for Ontario wrote that “no government may bring an action in defamation…Everyone should be free to criticize democratically elected governments, be they federal, provincial or local, without risking a defamation action…
     “Without free speech, there is no free press. Without a free press, there is no free political debate. Without free political debate, there cannot be true democracy. Freedom, writ large, is a pillar of democracy… A law that restricts free speech, even slightly and for noble purposes, has some chilling effect… 
     “In a democracy, it is essential that the government be in the public domain, and be available for criticism of all kinds.
     “…everyone has a right to voice her [sic] opinion, whether orally or in writing…
     “It is in the very nature of a democratic government itself that precludes government from responding to criticism by means of defamation actions…
     “The government may not imprison, or fine, or sue, those who criticize it…Litigation is a form of force, and the government must not silence its critics by force.
     “…any legal restriction on freedom of expression about public affairs has a chilling effect on freedom of expression generally…”
     These are comforting words of wisdom for everyone in democracies. If you want more details about this document, email me.

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