Court Of Appeal Confirms Dismissal Under Anti-SLAPP Laws Of Gill Defamation Suit

The Court of Appeal for Ontario has thrown out an Appeal from by 2 Ontario doctors. This was to challenge the result of a $12.75 million defamation lawsuit originally filed against 23 individuals and organizations. Although this was primarily over Twitter comments related to the “pandemic”, some old remarks involving the Ontario Medical Association were included.

The Court also denied permission to appeal the cost award of the initial lawsuit. In Ontario, when cases are thrown out under anti-SLAPP laws, the costs are “presumptively” awarded on a full indemnity, or 100% basis. And that is indeed what happened to the 2 doctors.

The February 2022 decision was very long. But at its core, many of the same finding came up over and over again.

  • The expressions relate to matters of a public interest
  • The expressions may have been unprofessional and insulting, but were not defamatory
  • The expressions are protected as fair comment, and are obviously comment
  • The Plaintiffs (Gill and Lamba) haven’t produced evidence of any real harm
  • Public interest is better served with protecting the expression

Section 137.1 of the Ontario Courts of Justice Act lays out the “anti-SLAPP” laws. SLAPP is of course an acronym for a strategic lawsuit against public participation. British Columbia has very similar laws. The purpose is to have a mechanism to quickly screen out cases that may be designed to silence speech or expression on public interest issues. Justice Stewart stated:

[17] I also conclude that these claims are precisely ones that are of the kind that s. 137.1 is designed to discourage and screen out.

The Court of Appeal ultimately agreed with this sentiment.

What’s interesting is that when the Appeal was finally heard, there weren’t 23 Respondents. There were only 4 of them left. And Lamba herself was no longer involved.

  • Dr. Angus Maciver
  • Dr. Nadia Alam
  • André Picard
  • Alheli Picazo

All of the others had the Appeal against them discontinued. It had been argued by many that this Appeal was simply “leverage”, in order to circumvent the original rulings.

The case was dismissed by Justice Stewart under Ontario’s anti-SLAPP laws, and eventually, a cost award of $1.1 million was handed down. However, the Appeal meant that the case was still open, and that more costs would be required to fight it.

A brief timeline of events:

December 2020: Kulvinder Gill and Ashvinder Lamba filed a $12.75 million defamation lawsuit against 23 individuals and media outlets, largely over a series of spats on Twitter. This was in the Toronto Branch of Ontario Superior Court.

September 2021: over the course of 3 days, several anti-SLAPP Motions were argued. The primary basis for these Motions was Section 137.1 of the Courts of Justice Act, which is designed to screen out litigation designed for “libel chill” or “gag proceedings”.

February 2022: Justice Stewart dismissed the claims against all proceedings, on the grounds that the lawsuit was exactly the type of case that anti-SLAPP laws were designed to weed out.

March 2022: the Decision was appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeals.

May 2022, despite filing the Notice of Appeal and Evidence Certificate (a list of evidence to be used), Gill and Lamba find themselves without counsel. It appears from the badly redacted filings that they are rather upset about the mess that they’re now in. If only someone had advised them that filing frivolous defamation claims in Ontario — which has strong anti-SLAPP laws — was a very dangerous and risky idea. Clearly, they got poor advice. (See Record)

July 2022: both Gill and Lamba retained new counsel, who tried to ward off the coming costs awards. In total, they were looking at over $1 million in costs. While this sounds excessive, they sued 23 Parties, which works out to an average of about $55,000 each.

September 2022: The Appeal is finally “perfected”, which means that the Appellants have filed everything they intend to bring to the hearing.

Due to various delays, the Appeal was set back considerably.

October 2022: although the case had been appealed, the issue of costs hadn’t been resolved. It finally was at the end of October, with Gill and Lamba (but mostly just Gill) owing over $1.1 million in Court fees. It must be pointed out that s.137.1(7) of the Courts of Justice Act sets “full indemnity”, or 100% of costs, as the baseline. True, Judges don’t have to award it, but that’s considered the starting point.

November 2023: The Pointer Group Inc., one of the Defendant Respondents, files a Motion for Security for Costs. The rationale is that Gill should have to demonstrate that there’s merit to the Appeal, and that she has money, all in advance.

November 2023: The Motion from The Pointer Group Inc. is dismissed.

December 2023: The Appeal is heard for the remaining parties. As expected, the verdict was reserved (deferred) until later.

February 2024: The Court of Appeal has some harsh words at the end of their ruling.

[25] First, the motion judge found that the offensive language used by Maciver in his impugned tweets was not defamatory. The motion judge noted that there is an important distinction in the law of defamation between words that are actionable for being defamatory and words that merely contain insults and are not actionable. The motion judge acknowledged that some of the language used by Maciver may have been unprofessional and ill-advised, but involved pure name-calling and was therefore not defamatory.

[26] Second, the motion judge found that the appellant had offered no evidence of any harm caused to her reputation as a result of the impugned tweets, other than “vague, unparticularized statements.” Therefore, even if the words complained of were defamatory, and some general damage to the appellant’s reputation is therefore to be presumed, any such damage is likely to be assessed as being merely nominal.

[27] Section 137.1(4)(b) of the CJA provides that if the impugned expression giving rise to a proceeding relates to a matter of “public interest”, the proceeding shall be dismissed unless the plaintiff satisfies the judge that the harm they have suffered, or are likely to suffer, is “sufficiently serious that the public interest in permitting the proceeding to continue outweighs the public interest in protecting that expression.”

[28] Given the at most nominal damages suffered by the appellant as a result of the impugned tweets by Maciver, the motion judge found that the public interest in protecting Maciver’s right to speak out on a matter of public interest outweighs any considerations that might otherwise favour allowing the appellant’s defamation action against him to continue.

Regarding the claims against Picard, Weeks and Picazo, the Court of Appeal found that their expressions were protected by the “fair comment” defence. And as with Maciver, Gill never produced any evidence that she had been seriously harmed by these remarks. The Panel decided that protecting the expression was more important than allowing the case to continue — exactly what Justice Stewart had written.

[62] The motion judge found that the appellant’s defamation claim against the critics of her unorthodox views on effective treatment for COVID-19 was intended to silence those critics. As the motion judge found, correctly in my view, this is precisely the type of proceeding that s. 137.1 was designed to foreclose.

[63] It is unclear why the appellant included the unrelated allegations against Maciver in the proceeding that was otherwise focused on issues related to COVID-19. Maciver had a limited social media profile, his criticisms of the appellant were taken down shortly after they were posted, he apologized publicly and privately to the appellant, and he was subsequently disciplined by the OMA for his comments. The appellant waited nearly two years before commencing a proceeding against Maciver and yet was unable to produce any evidence of reputational or other harm resulting from his tweets. The motion judge did not err in dismissing the appellant’s claim against him pursuant to s. 137.1(4)(b) of the CJA.

[67] It was the appellant’s choice to commence a proceeding against 23 different defendants, one, moreover, that has now been found to be without merit. Given that this proceeding is precisely the kind of action that s. 137.1 is designed to prevent, the motion judge was fully justified in applying the presumption of full indemnity costs set out in s. 137.1(7).

Gill had also sought Leave (permission) to appeal the $1.1 million cost award. That was denied, as the Panel viewed her overall Appeal as without any merit.

Gill and Lamba appear to have been successful at “leveraging” the Appeal into a settlement for reduced costs. In other words, they strong armed their victims into accepting lesser amounts. This comes despite the fact that both the original Claim and Appeal had no merit.

This doesn’t appear to be the end for either of them.

Kulvinder Gill still has an open $7 million lawsuit against Amir Attaran and the University of Ottawa over Twitter insults. This faces another anti-SLAPP Motion.

Ashvinder Lamba is suing her former counsel for incompetence, negligence, malpractice, and for having undisclosed conflicts of interest.

Expect follow up coverage.

(1) Gill V. Maciver Amended Notice of Motion – 26 Sept 2023
(2) Gill v Maciver – San Grewal’s appeal for support M54554.MPF.PointerGroup – October 2023.PDF
(4) Ruling: Motion For Security Of Costs – Denied

(1) Gill/Lamba Defamation Lawsuit December 2020
(3) Gill/Lamba Factum Of Medical Post Tristan Bronca
(4) Gill/Lamba Case Dismissed As A SLAPP
(6) Gill/Lamba Notice of Appeal and Appellants’ Certificate
(7) Gill/Lamba Appeal – Notice of Intention to Dismiss Appeal for Delay, May 12, 2022
(8) Motion To Recuse – Badly Redacted -2022-06-17 – Notice
(9) Motion To Recuse – Badly Redacted -2022 – Motion Record
(10) Gill/Lamba July 15 Letter To Obtain New Counsel
(11) Gill/Lamba Case Conference Brief July 29, 2022
(12) Gill/Lamba Endorsement New Counsel Cost Submissions August 3, 2022
(13) Gill/Lamba Case $1.1 Million In Costs Ordered October 31, 2022

(1) Gill-Attaran Statement Of Claim
(2) Gill Attaran Affidavit Of Service
(3) Gill-Attaran Notice Of Intent
(4) Gill-Attaran Motice To Recuse
(5) Gill-Ataran Motion To Recuse Motion Record

(1) Lamba Statement Of Claim

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