A legal dispute between Quebec City MP André Arthur, who rose to fame as a shock jock radio host, and a collective of taxi drivers will be heard by Canada's highest court.
The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear the case, which dates back to comments made by the Independent MP in 1998, while he worked as a radio host for CKVL.
According to Supreme Court documents, on his Nov. 17 broadcast Arthur made offensive remarks about Montreal's "Arab and Haitian" taxi drivers, including denouncing them as incompetent, claiming their vehicles were dirty and suggesting they had obtained licences through bribery.
He also encouraged such commentary from listeners calling in, according to court documents.
Fares Bou Malhab, president of a Montreal taxi association, heard the broadcast and instituted a class-action lawsuit against Arthur on behalf of more than 1,000 Montreal cabbies of Arab and Haitian descent.
At trial in April 2006, a Quebec Superior Court judge found the remarks "wrongful, defamatory and discriminatory," and ordered Arthur and Diffusion Métromédia CMR Inc. — which owned CKVL at the time — to pay $220,000, plus court costs, to a non-profit organization as compensation.
Reversed on appeal
However, in a 2-1 split decision in 2008, the Quebec Court of Appeal reversed the judgment, saying an ordinary person would not have considered the offensive remarks credible.
Also, the majority ruled that because the comments were directed at a group rather than an individual, monetary damages for defamation were not appropriate.
The Supreme Court has not yet set a date for its hearing in the case.
The outspoken Arthur, who represents the riding of Portneuf-Jacques-Cartier, is no stranger to controversy, having previously been threatened with defamation lawsuits and reprimanded by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
In 2004, the CRTC stripped radio station CHOI-FM of its licence and cited offensive comments Arthur made about African students at Laval University as part of the reason for its decision.