Manitoba

Winnipeg freelance writer ordered to pay over $450K in defamation suit, story never published

A judge has ordered a Winnipeg man to pay over $450,000 in damages for making defamatory statements about a respected Winnipeg surgeon.

Jared A. Shapira sent texts, letters, and posted online about a Winnipeg surgeon but never published the story

A default judgment was awarded in the case because a statement of defence was never filed. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

A judge has ordered a Winnipeg man to pay over $450,000 in damages for making defamatory statements about a respected surgeon.

In a statement of claim filed with the Court of Queen's Bench on Sept. 28, 2018 a Winnipeg doctor sought an interim injunction to stop Jared A. Shapira from defaming him online as well as seeking damages from the court.

The doctor is a surgeon at CancerCare Manitoba. Shapira is a freelance writer of men's style and luxury lifestyle pieces who writes under the name J.A. Shapira.

Court records show that on Sept. 6, Shapira sent a series of text messages to the surgeon asking to meet with him. Over a span of nearly four hours Shapira sent 14 messages.

"If you won't speak to me, my next call will be to the police and the CEO of CancerCare who won't protect you any longer and risk her career over you," one of the texts read.

"This decision will determine whether you maintain your stellar reputation and career or lose everything."

"You have two minutes to call me. I'm not bluffing."

J.A. Shapira shared a post on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, where he made the defamatory allegation against a 'top surgeon' at CancerCare and promised a story was coming soon. (J.A. Shapira/Twitter)

Two days later Shapira sent a letter to various health officials, including CancerCare and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba.

The letter detailed the allegations made against the doctor by "reliable sources." Shapira also posted to his publicly accessible social media accounts.

The post, published on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, stated the defamatory allegation against a "top surgeon" at CancerCare and promised a story was coming soon.

CancerCare and its CEO also filed a suit against Shapira on Sept. 14, but a judgment hasn't been issued and there is no future court date for the matter.

In the doctor's case, the court ordered a permanent injunction to stop Shapira from "further defaming, disparaging, or damaging [his] reputation."

It also ordered that all social media postings be removed and that Shapira be prohibited from posting any others and to keep from contacting the surgeon or his employers, patients or colleagues.

A default judgment was awarded on March 1 and in her written decision on May 14, Court of Queen's Bench Judge Deborah J. McCawley awarded the doctor $456,088 in damages and ordered Shapira to pay his legal costs.

The judge's decision said a statement of defence was never filed and no evidence of the allegations was ever provided.

The CancerCare surgeon is "well-respected" and a "victim of a campaign of intimidation, harassment, defamation, blackmail and extortion," the judge wrote.

He was also subject to a "deliberate and malicious campaign that included threats of imprisonment and unfounded allegations," wrote the judge.

"Any monetary award can hardly compensate him for what he has been through."

Story never published

Shapira told CBC News that he was unable to file a defence due to health reasons and he could not find a lawyer to represent him.

He also said that he attempted to contact the CancerCare surgeon in his capacity as a freelance writer to seek comment for a story he was writing about the allegations.

"At this time, I am legally prevented from being able to tell this story that I was working on as a journalist," Shapira said in an emailed statement.

"What I can comment on is the information that is currently public record, and the judgment, which I find highly prejudicial, an egregious assault on freedoms of the press and freedom of expression."

Shapira said he had never met the doctor and hadn't heard of him before work on the story began.

"It's not as if I woke up one morning and thought, 'Let's pick a random doctor to defame,'" he said.

"Even to this day I've never met [him]," Shipira said.

"I've never even had the opportunity to speak with him. I've never published anything about him, and the single tweet he claims defamed him, never mentioned his name or identity whatsoever, and was removed immediately upon request."

Shapira hopes the judgment can one day be overturned, as he has no way of paying the amounts ordered, and said he can't afford to fight the decision either.

Damages in excess of $450K

According to the decision, the surgical oncologist suffered from "situational depression" and was forced to miss several days of work and took medical leave for a month, for which the judge found he was entitled to $106,088.

She also awarded further damages of $350,000 for future loss of earnings, aggravated and punitive damages, and legal costs.

In addition to "harassing and intimidating phone calls and text messages, which one can reasonably infer came from the defendant," Shapira is alleged to have contacted the doctor's employer, CancerCare, as well as the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, which resulted in him being placed under investigation, the judge wrote.

Shapira never offered a retraction or apology and the judge said whatever his motives, "it was malicious and designed to bring harm to [the doctor]."

About the Author

Holly Caruk

Video Journalist

Holly Caruk is a video journalist with CBC Manitoba. She began her career as a photo journalist in 2007 and began reporting in 2015. Born and raised in Manitoba, Holly is a graduate of the University of Manitoba's film studies program and Red River College's creative communications program. Email: holly.caruk@cbc.ca