Manitoba

Manitoba appeal court slashes $500,000 award for defamation in civil jury trial

A Winnipeg businessman awarded $500,000 in damages by a jury in a defamation lawsuit last year has seen the award cut to $50,000 after an appeal by the defendant in the case.

Amount of jury's award 'wholly disproportionate and shockingly unreasonable,' appeal court finds

The defamation lawsuit stemmed from a 2009 development deal to bring IKEA to Winnipeg. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

A Winnipeg businessman awarded $500,000 in damages by a jury in a defamation lawsuit last year has seen the award cut to $50,000 after an appeal by the defendant in the case.

Commercial real estate developer Marcel Chartier sued a business partner, Serge Bibeau, in a case that involved investments in a 2009 land development deal for an IKEA store in Winnipeg.

The two men were friends and had numerous real estate and investment dealings spanning many years, the Jan. 17 decision by the Manitoba Court of Appeal says.

Chartier sued Bibeau in 2018 claiming Bibeau told two other people that Chartier "was a thief and stole money from him in relation to the IKEA development," the decision said.

A jury awarded damages to Chartier for defamation in May 2021 after a civil trial, and Bibeau appealed. At the time, Bibeau's lawyer Stephan Thliveris said the award was unreasonable.

The appeal court finds the amount of the jury's award "wholly disproportionate and shockingly unreasonable," the decision said, considering the extent of publication and absence of any actual harm to Chartier.

"A civil jury awarded the plaintiff general damages in the amount of $500,000 for defamation. Civil jury trials in Manitoba are rare. Awards for defamation in that amount are virtually non-existent," the appeal court decision said.

According to Bibeau, the defamatory comments were made to two individuals, "a small audience by any measure," and the plaintiff, Chartier, suffered no actual loss in business because of the comments, the decision said.

The decision concludes the amount of "damages fixed by the jury was so inordinately high that it was an erroneous estimate of the damage done to the plaintiff," so the amount is replaced with an award of $50,000 for general and aggravated damages.

Chartier's lawyer, Robert Tapper, says he is now applying for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Appeal Court Justice William Burnett wrote that the defamatory statements that Chartier "was a thief and stole funds" were extremely serious and "utterly false allegations," but noted the statements were "made orally on one occasion to two people," and it was not a case of widespread or repeated publication in the media or on the internet.

Bibeau's lawyer, Thliveris, said his client is "extremely pleased" with the reduction in damages by the appeal court and anticipates filing a cross appeal if the case goes to the Supreme Court.

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