- UPDATE: On July 7, 2016 the defendants sent Kent’s lawyers a cheque for $261,764.38 (including interest) and said later that they would not be appealing the verdict.
Defamation cases rarely go to trial in Alberta. When they do, if the plaintiffs win, the damages awarded are often nominal.
But Arthur Kent wrote a new chapter for the province’s legal history books in November 2015 when he took Canada’s largest newspaper publisher to trial for publishing a defamatory opinion piece by one of its political columnists. Not only did Kent win his case but he received $200,000 in compensatory damages – the largest amount ever given in an Alberta courtroom.
Kent, who was born in Alberta in 1953, had established an international reputation as a television journalist when he returned to his native province and ran as a Conservative candidate in the 2008 provincial election. The ruling Conservatives were happy to have him at first because they thought his star status would improve their re-election chances. But noses were soon out of joint when Kent refused to have anything to do with the party’s old guard and publicly criticized people in the premier’s office for failure to communicate.
With three weeks left to go before the election, a columnist for the Calgary Herald and National Post wrote an article highly critical of Kent and his campaign. Kent waited until after the election – in which he was narrowly defeated – to respond to the column. When the newspapers refused to run his rebuttal, issue an apology or publish a retraction, Kent sued the columnist, Don Martin, and the now-defunct corporate owner of the newspapers, Canwest, for defamation.
The case took more than seven years to get to trial. I covered the trial in a story for Facts & Opinions, which you can read by clicking HERE. I also wrote about this month’s $200,000 judgment against Martin and the current corporate owner of the newspapers, Postmedia Network, in an article you can read by clicking HERE. One of Kent’s lawyers, Kent Jesse, commented afterwards that the rules for responsible communication on matters of public interest allow for hard-hitting, critical pieces to be published in Canada’s newspapers and on-line. But the facts on which such opinions are based have to be accurate. In this case they were not. A British editor, the Guardian’s C.P. Scott, put it best when he wrote in 1921: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.”
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Copyright 2016 Brian Brennan - Writer