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Libel and Slander Act

[RSBC 1996] CHAPTER 263

Contents
 1 Definitions
 2 Defamation in broadcast
 3 Newspaper reports of proceedings in court privileged
 4 Newspaper reports of public meetings, etc., privileged
 5 One clear day between cause of action and issue of writ
 6 Special pleas in mitigation of damages for libel
 6.1 Fair comment
 6.2 Public or educational libraries
 7 Recovery of actual damages only in certain cases
 8 Application of Act to libel of candidate for election
 9 Defendant may pay money into court
 10 Proving offer of written apology in mitigation of damages
 11 Damages recovered in another action, or compromise
 12 Publication of name of publisher
 13 Allegations in libel and slander actions
 14 Direction to jury and return of verdict
 15 Consolidation of actions
 16 Verdict, damages and costs in consolidated actions
 17 Obscene matter need not be set out in pleadings
 18 Where action must be tried
 19 Security for costs
 20 Application of sections 17 to 19 to broadcast libel

Definitions

1  In this Act:

"broadcasting" means the dissemination of writing, signs, signals, pictures, sounds or intelligence of any nature intended for direct reception by, or which is available on subscription to, the general public

(a) by means of a device utilizing electromagnetic waves of frequencies lower than 3 000 GHz propagated in space without artificial guide, or

(b) through a community antenna television system operated by a person licensed under the Broadcasting Act (Canada) to carry on a broadcasting receiving undertaking,

and "broadcast" has a corresponding meaning;

"public meeting" means a meeting genuinely and lawfully held for a public purpose, and for the furtherance or discussion of a matter of public concern, whether the admission to it is general or restricted;

"public newspaper or other periodical publication" includes

(a) a paper containing public news, intelligence or occurrences, or any remarks or observations in it printed for sale and published periodically, or in parts or numbers at intervals not exceeding 31 days between the publication of any 2 papers, parts or numbers, and

(b) a paper printed in order to be dispersed and made public weekly or more often, or at intervals not exceeding 31 days, and containing only, or principally, advertisements.

Defamation in broadcast

2  Defamatory words in a broadcast are deemed to be published and to constitute libel.

Newspaper reports of proceedings in court privileged

3  (1) A fair and accurate report in a public newspaper or other periodical publication or in a broadcast of proceedings publicly heard before a court exercising judicial authority if published contemporaneously with the proceedings, is privileged.

(2) This section does not authorize the publication of blasphemous or indecent matter.

Newspaper reports of public meetings, etc., privileged

4  (1) A fair and accurate report published in a public newspaper or other periodical publication or in a broadcast of the proceedings of a public meeting, or, except if neither the public nor a news reporter is admitted, of a meeting of a municipal council, board of education, board or local authority formed or constituted under any Act, or a francophone education authority as defined in the School Act, or of a committee appointed by any of the above mentioned bodies, or of a meeting of commissioners authorized to act by letters patent, Act or other lawful warrant or authority, or select committees of the Legislative Assembly, and the publication at the request of a government office or ministry, or a public officer, of a notice or report issued for the information of the public, is privileged, unless it is proved that the report or publication was published or made maliciously.

(2) This section does not authorize the publication of blasphemous or indecent matter.

(3) The protection intended to be afforded by this section is not available as a defence in proceedings if it is proved that the defendant has been requested to insert in the newspaper or other periodical publication, or to broadcast in the same manner as that, in which the report or other publication complained of appeared, a reasonable letter or statement by way of contradiction or explanation of the report or other publication and has refused or neglected to insert it.

(4) This section does not limit or abridge a privilege now existing by law, or protect the publication of matter not of public concern and the publication of which is not for the public benefit.

One clear day between cause of action and issue of writ

5  In an action for libel contained in a public newspaper or other periodical publication or in a broadcast, one clear day must be allowed to elapse between the cause of action complained of and the issue of the writ on the libel.

Special pleas in mitigation of damages for libel

6  (1) In an action for libel in a newspaper or other periodical publication the defendant may plead in mitigation of damages that the libel was inserted in the newspaper or other periodical publication without actual malice and without gross negligence, and

(a) that before the commencement of the action, or at the earliest opportunity afterwards, the defendant inserted in the newspaper or other periodical publication a full apology for the libel, or

(b) if the newspaper or periodical publication in which the libel appeared is one ordinarily published at intervals exceeding one week, that the defendant offered to publish the apology in a newspaper or periodical publication to be selected by the plaintiff in the action.

(2) In an action for a libel in a broadcast, the defendant may plead in mitigation of damages that the libel was broadcast without actual malice and without gross negligence and that before the commencement of the action, or at the earliest opportunity afterwards, the defendant broadcast a full apology for the libel.

Fair comment

6.1  (1) If a defendant published alleged defamatory matter that is an opinion expressed by another person, a defence of fair comment must not fail merely because the defendant did not hold the opinion if

(a) the defendant did not know that the person expressing the opinion did not hold the opinion, and

(b) a person could honestly hold the opinion.

(2) For the purposes of this section, a defendant referred to in subsection (1) has no duty, before or after publication of an opinion referred to in that subsection, to inquire into whether the person expressing the opinion does or does not hold the opinion.

Public or educational libraries

6.2  (1) In this section, "educational library" means a library maintained and operated by any of the following:

(a) a school or a Provincial school as those terms are defined in the School Act;

(b) an independent school as that term is defined in the Independent School Act;

(c) a university within the meaning of the University Act;

(d) an institution within the meaning of the College and Institute Act;

(e) a person that has received the consent referred to in section 4 of the Degree Authorization Act;

(f) [Repealed 2007-22-24.]

(g) the British Columbia Institute of Technology;

(h) Royal Roads University;

(h.1) the Thompson Rivers University;

(i) any other person prescribed by the regulations.

(2) Subject to subsection (3), no legal proceeding lies or may be commenced or maintained against, and no damages or compensation of any kind is payable by, a public or educational library, any of its owners or operators or any of the directors, officers or employees of the public or educational library or of its owners or operators because the public or educational library makes a record available generally or to any person.

(3) Subsection (2) does not apply to a public or educational library in respect of a record that is made available by it in contravention of a court order.

Recovery of actual damages only in certain cases

7  In an action the plaintiff is entitled to recover only actual damages if on the trial of the action it is proved that

(a) the article was published in good faith,

(b) there was reasonable ground to believe that it was for the public benefit,

(c) it did not involve a criminal charge, and

(d) if the publication took place in mistake or misapprehension of the facts, a full and fair retraction of a statement in it alleged to be erroneous was published either in the next regular issue of the newspaper or other periodical publication, or in any regular issue of it published within 3 days after the service of the writ, and was published in as conspicuous a place and type as was the article complained of, or

(e) if the alleged libel was broadcast, the retraction was broadcast within a reasonable time and at the latest, 3 days after service of the writ and was broadcast as widely and as often as was the alleged libel, and a transcript of the retraction broadcast was delivered or sent by registered mail addressed to the plaintiff within that period.

Application of Act to libel of candidate for election

8  Sections 5, 6 and 7 do not apply to the case of libel against a candidate, whether at a parliamentary or a local government election, unless at least 5 days before the election, a full and fair retraction of the statement alleged to be erroneous is made, in the case of

(a) a publication, editorially in a conspicuous manner, or

(b) a broadcast, editorially as widely and as often as the alleged libel was broadcast, and a transcript of the retraction is delivered or sent by registered mail addressed to the candidate.

Defendant may pay money into court

9  (1) A defendant may with that defence pay into court money by way of amends for the injury sustained by the publication of the libel.

(2) The payment is of the same effect, and available to the same extent and in the same manner, and is subject to the same rules and regulations as to costs, and the form of pleading, except as far as regards the additional facts in the Act required to be pleaded by the defendant, as payment of money into court in other cases.

(3) To that defence the plaintiff may reply generally, denying the whole of it.

Proving offer of written apology in mitigation of damages

10  In an action for defamation if the defendant has pleaded not guilty, if judgment has been given against the defendant with damages to be assessed, or the defendant admits the defamation, the defendant may give in evidence in mitigation of damages, that the defendant made or offered a written or printed apology to the plaintiff for the defamation before the commencement of the action, or if the action was commenced before there was an opportunity of making or offering the apology, that the defendant did so as soon afterwards as the defendant had opportunity.

Damages recovered in another action, or compromise

11  At the trial of an action for a libel contained in a newspaper or other periodical publication or in a broadcast, the defendant may give in evidence in mitigation of damages that the plaintiff has already recovered, or has brought action for, damages, or has received or agreed to receive compensation in respect of a libel to the same effect as the libel for which the action has been brought.

Publication of name of publisher

12  (1) The proprietor or publisher of a newspaper or other periodical publication is not entitled to the benefit of section 5, 6, 7, 8 or 11 unless the name of the proprietor or publisher and the address of publication are stated either at the head of the editorials or on the front page of the newspaper.

(2) The production of a printed copy of a newspaper is proof, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, of the publication of the printed copy and of the truth of the statements mentioned in subsection (1).

(3) If a person, by letter containing the person's address, sent by registered mail and addressed to a broadcasting station, alleges that libel against the person has been broadcast from the station and requests the name and address of the owner or operator of the station or the names and addresses of the owner and the operator of the station, section 5, 6, 7, 8 or 11 do not apply with respect to an action by that person against the owner or operator for the alleged libel unless the person whose name and address are requested delivers the requested information to the first person, or sends it by registered mail addressed to that person, within 10 days from the date on which the letter is received at the broadcasting station.

Allegations in libel and slander actions

13  (1) In actions of libel and slander the plaintiff may allege that the words or matter complained of were used in a defamatory sense, specifying the defamatory sense without any prefatory allegation to show how the words or matter were used in that sense.

(2) The allegation is put in issue by the denial of the alleged libel or slander, and if the words or matter set out in the pleadings, with or without the alleged meaning, show a cause of action, the notice of civil claim is sufficient.

Direction to jury and return of verdict

14  (1) On the trial of an action for making or publishing a libel, on the plea of not guilty pleaded, the jury sworn to try the issue may give a general verdict of guilty or not guilty on the whole matter put in issue in the action.

(2) The jury must not be required or directed by the court before which the action is tried to find the defendant guilty merely on the proof of publication by the defendant of the paper charged to be a libel, and of the sense ascribed to it in the action.

(3) The court before which the trial is held must, in its discretion, give the opinion and directions of the court to the jury on the matter in issue, as in other cases.

(4) The jury may on the issue find a special verdict, if they think fit to do so.

(5) The defendant, if found guilty, may move for a stay of judgment on the grounds and in a manner he might have done before the coming into force of this Act.

Consolidation of actions

15  (1) The Supreme Court, on an application by or on behalf of 2 or more defendants in actions in respect of the same, or substantially the same, libel or defamation brought by the same person, may make an order for the consolidation of the actions, so that they are tried together.

(2) After the order has been made, and before the trial of the actions, the defendants in any new actions instituted in respect of the same, or substantially the same, libel or defamation are also entitled to be joined in a common action, on a joint application being made by the new defendants and the defendants in the actions already consolidated.

Verdict, damages and costs in consolidated actions

16  (1) In a consolidated action under section 15, the court or jury must assess the whole amount of the damages, if any, in one sum, but a separate verdict must be taken for or against each defendant, in the same way as if the actions consolidated had been tried separately.

(2) If the court or jury finds a verdict against the defendant or defendants in more than one of the actions consolidated, they must proceed to apportion the amount of damages that they have found between and against the defendants.

(3) If the court awards costs to the plaintiff, the court must make an order it thinks just for the apportionment of costs between and against the defendants.

Obscene matter need not be set out in pleadings

17  (1) It is not necessary in an action for libel to set out in the pleading or process obscene passages, but it is sufficient to deposit in the proper registry the book, newspaper or other document containing the alleged libel, together with particulars showing precisely by reference to pages, columns and lines where the alleged libel is to be found.

(2) The particulars form part of the record, and all proceedings may be taken on them as though the passages complained of had been set out in pleading or process.

Where action must be tried

18  (1) An action for libel contained in a public newspaper or other periodical publication when the chief office of the newspaper or other periodical publication is in British Columbia must be tried in the county where the chief office of the newspaper or periodical is, or in the county where the plaintiff resides at the time the action is brought.

(2) On the application of either party the court may direct the issues to be tried or the damages to be assessed in another county if it appears to be in the interests of justice, or that it will promote a fair trial, and may impose terms as to payment of witness fees and otherwise as seem proper.

Security for costs

19  (1) In an action brought for libel in a public newspaper or periodical publication the defendant may, at any time after the filing of the notice of civil claim, apply to the court for security for costs, on notice and an affidavit by the defendant or an agent, showing the following:

(a) the nature of the action;

(b) the defence;

(c) that the plaintiff is not possessed of property sufficient to answer the costs of the action in case a verdict or judgment is given in favour of the defendant;

(d) that the defendant has a good defence on the merits;

(e) that the statements complained of were published in good faith;

(f) that the grounds of action are trivial or frivolous.

(2) The court may order that the plaintiff give security for the costs to be incurred in the action.

(3) The security ordered must be given in accordance with the practice in cases where the plaintiff resides out of British Columbia.

(4) The order is a stay of proceedings until the proper security is given.

(5) If the alleged libel involves a criminal charge, the defendant is not entitled to security for costs under this Act unless the defendant satisfies the court that the action is trivial or frivolous or that the circumstances which, under sections 5, 6, 7 and 8 entitle the defendant at the trial to have the damages restricted to actual damages appear to exist, except the circumstance that the article complained of involves a criminal charge.

(6) For the purposes of this section, the plaintiff or the defendant or their agents, may be examined on oath at any time after the notice of civil claim has been filed.

Application of sections 17 to 19 to broadcast libel

20  Sections 17, 18 and 19 apply, with the necessary modifications, to an action for libel in a broadcast.