Anti-Choice Site Sued by Catholic Priest

16 Feb

The pro-choice world got some terrible news this week with South Dakota’s new laws that would make it a “justifiable homicide” to kill an abortion doctor in certain circumstances. We also got some good news: Lifesite News (LSN) Canada is being sued [links to LSN] by Fr. Raymond Gravel in Joliette, Quebec.

My law degree is in common law, which basically means I am schooled in the law of Canada except Quebec, which uses a combination of the common law and French Civil Code. This means that I am extrapolating and using various sources to fill in the blanks of my knowledge. I also don’t read French. That being said, I hope to provide valuable information about what is happening and Fr. Gravel’s likelihood of success.

The first appearance is in Joliette Thursday January 17 in the Court of Quebec, Civil Division [Dossier 17-003784-103]. From LSN,

Fr. Gravel … is suing us for libel. Among other things, he argues that he isn’t pro-abortion, but he has said in the past that he is “pro-choice.” He’s demanding $500,000 in damages – which, coincidentally, is a full year’s budget for us. That would put LifeSiteNews out of business!

Luckily for us, defamation laws (includes slander, speech and libel, print) in Canada do not apply the “actual malice” test used in the U.S., meaning it will be much easier for Fr. Gravel to be successful. Quebec’s law on defamation is a mess. There is not actually legislation that makes defamation a tort, as there is in every other province, and instead it is based on Article 1457 of the Quebec Civil Code, which is known as the general rules of extra-contractual responsibility,

Every person has a duty to abide by the rules of conduct which lie upon him, according to the circumstances, usage or law, so as not to cause injury to another.

Where he is endowed with reason and fails in this duty, he is responsible for any injury he causes to another person by such fault and is liable to reparation for the injury, whether it be bodily, moral or material in nature.

He is also liable, in certain cases, to reparation for injury caused to another by the act or fault of another person or by the act of things in his custody.

Defamation law has been carved out of this article by the common law. Per the Supreme Court decision in Prud’homme v. Prud’homme,

… the plaintiff must establish, on a balance of probabilities, the existence of injury, of a wrongful act, and of a causal connection. To demonstrate the existence of injury, the plaintiff must convince the judge that the impugned remarks were defamatory. Words may be defamatory because of the idea they expressly convey or by the insinuations that may be inferred from them. Whether remarks are defamatory is determined by applying an objective standard. It must be asked whether an ordinary person would believe that the remarks made, when viewed as a whole, brought discredit on the reputation of another person. In defamation cases, the wrongful act may derive from two types of conduct, one malicious and the other merely negligent.

This means that Fr. Gravel bears the burden of proof, or onus, to establish on the balance of probabilities (51%) that he was (i) injured (ii) by a wrongful act and (iii) that the wrongful act [the printed words] caused the injury. Injury is shown by proving the words LSN used were defamatory, the determination of defamatory being objective (vs. subjective). The judge will ask themself whether the words, as a whole, brought discredit to Fr. Gravel’s reputation. LSN will then bear the burden to prove any defences, including that the statements they made were truthful. In establishing whether what LSN printed was truthful, the court will apply a standard of reasonableness, meaning the defendant [LSN] would not be held liable if it was reasonable to believe the statement was true. LSN can be held liable if they were either malicious (intent to defame) or negligent in the printing of the words regarding their potential to defame.

I am trying to get my hands on a translated version of the statement of claim that Fr. Gravel would have filed with the court outlining the allegations. I am also hoping to get the statement of defence, which is what LSN would have filed in defence (collectively ‘pleadings’). Without at least the statement of claim it is very hard for me to form an opinion on the strength of the case. LSN on its website states that Fr. Gravel is alleging they referred to him as ‘pro-abortion’. Prima facie, based on my limited knowledge of Quebec law, that might not pass the reasonableness test. That is, LSN may be able to show it was reasonable for them to believe ‘pro-abortion’ was a true description of Fr. Gravel. The general rule is throw everything possible at the defendant and hope something sticks, so even if a court were to find that ‘pro-abortion’ was reasonable, there may be something else that would actually qualify as defamatory.

This isn’t as thorough as I hoped it would be but I am missing key information. I have made contact with Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) and they are working to get me the pleadings. Once I have that, I will have a much better idea of the strength of this lawsuit. I will also keep an eye out for judgments in this case. Keep in mind that chances are this will take awhile to wind its way through even the first level of the courts. In civil law there are mandatory settlement conferences, which delays any potential trial. I will comment on the pleadings once I have a copy and I will do my best to either write a post, or update Abortion Gang when there is a judgment. If the case goes to trial, there may not be a judgment until the end of 2011.

Fingers crossed!

6 Responses to “Anti-Choice Site Sued by Catholic Priest”

  1. observer February 16, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    my money is on LSN. the man said he was “pro-choice”, strict definition could be construed as pro-abortion. Thomas More Society is weighing in, they’ll recover their operating budget from donations. Too much controversial precedent to be set on this one. No win for the “Father”.

  2. Not Guilty February 16, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    @observer – without all the pleadings, it is absolutely impossible to be sure which party will win. I will be updating once I get access to those documents, which I am hoping to get. Second, Canadian courts really don’t worry about “controversial precedent”, especially in Quebec. Even though Quebec has very Catholic roots, they have the most accessible abortion services in Canada. This case will be decided on nothing more than its merits. The precedent it may or may not set is irrelevant.

  3. observer February 16, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

    You’re entitled to your opinion – guess we will see. I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you. Case tried on it’s merits? Please. Politicians are politicians.

  4. Not Guilty February 16, 2011 at 8:17 pm #

    You know that I am referring to Canada, right? In Canada, abortions are, for the most part, free and there are zero restrictions. I meant zero. I can walk into a clinic, show my government health card and get an abortion at any time in the pregnancy. Of course we know in reality women don’t do that, but it illustrates my point.

    A little while ago in Quebec, a Catholic priest or something came out and said abortion was amoral and the government should regulate it. I can’t remember the context but the province went apeshit and the Quebec government, and media, railed on this priest. He shut up fast. Canadians are, as a whole, pro-choice. Politicians don’t tend to do much. Not to mention, politicians get no say in the justice system.

  5. observer February 17, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

    yes, I know you are talking about Canada. We’re not talking about abortions, we are talking about the legal definition of defamation. No chance for “father” gravel here unless there is some serious legal misinterpretation of the law. Just wait and see who’s right.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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