CBC loses bid to appeal $1 million defamation case

CBC loses bid to appeal record defamation case to Supreme Court.

The CBC must pay one of the largest defamation penalties ever imposed on a Canadian media outlet after being denied its final avenue of appeal.

The Supreme Court of Canada announced Thursday that it will not hear the case. The top justices never give reasons for refusing to hear appeals.

Two years ago, the CBC was ordered to pay close to $1 million in damages to medical scientist Dr. Frans Leenen of the University of Ottawa because of a story that ran on the investigative program the fifth estate.

It was also told to pay another $200,000 in damages to a Toronto cardiologist, Dr. Martin Myers.

The two doctors had sued the CBC over a story about the safety of heart medication that had been broadcast in 1996.

They accused the investigative report of being malicious, unfair, defamatory and sensationalized.

The story looked at the potential dangers of a drug and whether the public had been notified. It alleged a possible conflict between researchers and drug manufacturers.

In his ruling in April 2000, Ontario Judge Douglas Cunningham called the report "the product of months of preparation and absolute adherence to a slanted and biased story line."

Last year, Myers won another $150,000 in aggravated damages after the CBC lost at the Ontario Court of Appeal.

"I consider the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada to be the ultimate vindication of my reputation as a physician and scientist working in the best interests of my patients," Leenen said in a statement issued Thursday.

"I remain disappointed that the CBC pursued this matter until the bitter end. In doing so it has wasted millions in taxpayers' dollars fighting a case which could have been settled years ago with a simple on-air apology and $10,000 in damages."

The CBC said it respects the court's decision, but expressed concern that important guidelines about investigative journalism will not be reviewed by the top justices.

"We are disappointed with this news because we felt that these cases raised crucial questions about freedom of speech, the law of defamation, and the media's ability to report on issues of public interest," said Ruth-Ellen Soles, head of media relations for the broadcaster.

"We will take these judgments into account in our programming," she added. "We will also discuss the profound implications of these judgments with our journalists, journalists in other media organizations, and members of the legal community."

It's not clear how much the CBC will have to pay in the end, because the corporation is still adding up court-ordered damages, legal fees, and other costs. The total is expected to be several million dollars.