A. Introduction

Author:Philip H. Osborne
Profession:Faculty of Law. The University of Manitoba
Pages:404-405
 
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Page 404

The interest of persons in protecting their good reputations was recognized early in the development of the common law and it continues to receive strong protection under the tort of defamation. This is in marked contrast to the response of tort law to most other intangible personal interests. Tort law has been very slow, for example, in developing remedies for breach of privacy, harassment, and emotional distress, and it has "passed" on the issue of discrimination. There are a number of reasons why reputation is one of the few dignitary interests that has received special protection.1Some are historical. The invention of the printing press prompted the development in the common law of strong criminal and civil laws to combat seditious and blasphemous libel,2which was perceived as a serious threat to the public order and to the Crown.3The high value placed on reputation by the English elite classes and the desire to minimize violence, particularly by duelling, as

Page 405

a means of defending one’s honour were also factors. Canadian judges have maintained the high priority that has traditionally been given to the protection of reputation. This is explained in part by the pivotal role of reputation in the protection of personal dignity, status, prestige, and power; by the sensitivity of judges to the importance of reputation in their own professional careers; by the extensive economic harm that can flow from an attack on a person’s reputation; by the power of modern systems of mass communication to disseminate defamatory statements to large numbers of persons; and by the need to encourage persons of integrity to enter and continue in public service. The protection of reputation does, however, impinge on other highly valued interests such as freedom of expression and freedom of the press, both of which are protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Freedom of speech guards against oppressive and abusive governmental actions, protects the free exchange and testing of political ideas, facilitates a search for truth, enhances the efficient operation of the marketplace, supports a flourishing artistic community, and maximizes the flow of information essential for individual, social, and political decision making. It is the foundation of a vibrant and free democracy. Defamation law strikes a balance between these competing interests. An unduly assiduous protection of reputation may diminish the flow of important information and...

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