Posted on December 17, 2008

Court Upholds $40,000 Web Defamation Award

Globe and Mail (Toronto)

Human-rights crusader Richard Warman has dealt a serious financial blow to one of the best-known figures on the far right, Paul Fromm, with a $40,000 defamation judgment from the Ontario Court of Appeal.

In a ruling released yesterday, the court upheld a trial award of $30,000 and added $10,000 in legal costs. Mr. Fromm, a self-styled free-speech advocate, immediately sought help from his supporters to pay the award and to finance a potential appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

“We are $17,500 behind in our legal bills—to say nothing of the possible $40,000 debt, if this judgment stands,” Mr. Fromm said in a posting on his Canadian Association for Free Expression website.

Meanwhile, Mr. Warman said that his victory, “sends the message that those who try to use the cloak of free speech to poison other people’s reputations through lies and defamation do so at their own peril.

Ottawa lawyer Richard Warman is on a one-man crusade to to eradicade racists and neo-Nazis from cyberspace.

“Hate propaganda and defaming people are both illegal on the Internet, just the same as they are in real life,” he said in an interview.

In her trial ruling, Madam Justice Monique Métivier of Ontario Superior Court had said that Mr. Fromm exhibited malice in a series of Internet postings that belittled Mr. Warman. “The steady diet of diatribe and insults, couched in half-truths and omissions, all lead up to the finding of malice such that the defamatory statements are not protected by the defence of fair comment,” she said.

Yesterday, the appeal court endorsed her conclusions: “In our view, the statements complained of are clearly capable of being defamatory of the respondent,” said Chief Justice Warren Winkler, Mr. Justice Michael Moldaver and Mr. Justice Stephen Goudge.

Mr. Warman, a lawyer for the federal government, has enjoyed remarkable success in a flurry of lawsuits and complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

In the statements that led Mr. Warman to sue him, Mr. Fromm disparaged him for using legal mechanisms to try to chill free speech and shut down individuals who had allegedly spread hate.

Mr. Fromm referred to Mr. Warman as “a hatchet man” and a “high priest of censorship,” and accused him of exploiting his former position as an investigator with the Human Rights Commission to benefit financially.

Lawyer Douglas Christie, who acted for Mr. Fromm during the trial, argued that Mr. Fromm was commenting on a matter of public interest and that he genuinely believed Mr. Warman to be an enemy of free speech.

“The actions of a public employee, acting in a manner that might bring the fair administration of the CHRC into question, is clearly a matter of public interest—as was the use of taxpayer’s money in the prosecution of these cases,” Mr. Fromm’s defence said in a written argument.

In his statement on the CAFE website, Mr. Fromm—a former teacher who was fired in 1998 for making racist comments in public—remarked that the appeal court judges were “snapping and confrontational” during his hearing last week.