Digital Defamation meets Bricks and Mortar Justice – SCC Ruling in the St. Lewis v. Rancourt Defamation Action

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On Februrary 18, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada brought an end to the 5 year ordeal of racist defamation orchestrated by former professor Denis Rancourt against Professor Joanne St. Lewis In denying his Leave to Appeal application, they upheld the July 8, 2015, decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal. This decision found that the Defendant abandoned the trial during Professor St. Lewis’s evidence in chief. In doing so, he failed to lead any evidence of why he was entitled to defame a Black feminist professor using racist language in an online post. Professor and former Dean of Camille Nelson of Suffolk University Law School (Boston) provided expert testimony regarding the particular significance of the racist language within the Black Canadian community. In her expert report she stated in her conclusion that:

Whether the insulter meant something different from the common understanding, or did not intend to be insulting, or asserts some complimentary meaning, the commonly ascribed understanding of [term excluded] amongst Black Canadians and Americans is as described above, as a potent assaultative insult firmly grounded in the history of slavery and the degradation and dehumanization of Black people.

The jury verdict in June 2014 found that the Defendant Rancourt’s cyberbullying was actuated by malice. The jury awarded Professor St. Lewis $350,000.00 in damages including $250,000 in aggravated damages. She was granted a permanent injunction. The Defendant Rancourt was also ordered to remove the defamatory blog articles and cease communicating with Professor St. Lewis directly or indirectly.

For over five years, Professor Joanne St. Lewis was immersed in a defamation case. The Defendant’s actions expanded to attacking the professionalism of almost every judge who ruled against him. Throughout, the Defendant Rancourt remained self-represented. Over 30 court decisions were successfully won by St. Lewis through her counsel. Many of these motions involved settled areas of law that the Defendant sought to challenge. Many of the Defendant's arguments involved repetition that Professor St. Lewis had suffered no damage, her claim of racism was unfounded and it was her legal action that was the true abuse of process.

This Action is a clear demonstration of the high cost of true diversity and inclusion. It requires a measured understanding that human dignity is not a bargaining chip. The University of Ottawa, exercised its discretion and supported Professor St. Lewis’s defamation action against Denis Rancourt. It acknowledged the simple truth that she was defamed while performing her professional duties.

Designed by Rachel Gold.