With fines of up to $115,000 for online criticism in recent years, Canadian consumers must be better protected and aware of the guidelines for their freedom of expression.
This is the main conclusion of a very detailed 77-page investigative report written by lawyer Véronique Parent. A total of 43 cases in 6 Canadian provinces, including case jurisprudence between 2018 and 2021. In addition, interviews were conducted with experts from various fields and six online focus groups were conducted.
A framework for expressing yourself
According to the research report, “Defamation lawsuits filed against consumers who use digital platforms to criticize their products or services have increased in recent years.”
However, we note that in the current context, with the increased use of social media, the classic defamation suit brought by companies is inappropriate.
“In the rendered decisions, often, the judge has concluded that the reputation of the consumer organization has been unfairly damaged,” said M.e parents The problem is that users often don’t know where to cross the line in their criticism.
Conversely, we may have companies that react very strongly to mildly negative criticism. Establishing a framework that allows users to express themselves is important, but it also sets limits in some cases.
Excerpt from a research report prepared by Veronique Parent
Me Parents cited the example of Alberta, which included a provision establishing such guidelines in its Consumer Protection Act. “With certain exceptions the Company cannot bring an action for damages against the User for publishing a review online. We are talking about nasty comments, personal attacks, abuse with words like “crook”, “thief”, comments made in bad faith. »
“The idea is to find a balance between the user’s freedom of expression, but also the company’s reputation,” she explains.
“In Quebec we don’t have such strict regulations. It is a bit unclear for the consumer to know how far freedom of expression goes and at what point it becomes defamatory. »
Pilot project and court
For option consumers, a lawsuit should be accepted only when it is determined that the consumer has violated his freedom of expression and caused substantial financial loss to the company. Currently, the organization says, it is up to the courts to establish the contours of consumers’ freedom of expression on a case-by-case basis.
As a first solution, option consumers are advised to resort to arbitration. A pilot project started by the organization a month ago is also continuing, Me parents “This is new, so we don’t have any definitive results yet. »
The other solution mentioned relates to the establishment of an “online defamation dispute tribunal”. “The idea is to resolve disputes more quickly by being online. »