The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled a prominent Canadian Jewish businessman cannot sue an Israeli newspaper for libel in this country.
In a judgment released on June 6, the top court ruled 6-3 that billionaire real estate developer Mitchell Goldhar may not pursue a libel action against Haaretz in Canada, saying Israel was “the more appropriate forum.”
The case goes back to 2011, when Haaretz ran a story critical of Goldhar, who owns the Tel Aviv-based Maccabi Tel Aviv Football Club.
The story paraphrased sources claiming Goldhar’s management of the soccer team was “based on overconcentration bordering on megalomania, penny-pinching, and a lack of long-term planning.”
The article further alleged, “Goldhar’s management model was imported directly from his main business interest – a partnership with Walmart to operate shopping centres in Canada.”
While the article was not distributed in print form in Canada, it was available electronically.
Goldhar sued in Ontario, claiming $700,000 in damages against Haaretz, its sports editor, and the story’s author, David Marouani. He argued the article suggested he had a “personality disorder or mental illness” and that he made “irrational” business decisions.
The newspaper countered that Ontario courts had no jurisdiction to hear the suit. Any action should be held in Israel, or the claim should be stayed as an abuse of process, it argued.
In 2015, a lower court sided with Goldhar, finding that as many as 300 people in Canada had read the article online, and that Ontario had jurisdiction.
Haaretz appealed, and in a 2-1 ruling the following year, Ontario’s Court of Appeal upheld the lower judgment.
But the Supreme Court found that Haaretz “would face substantial unfairness and inefficiency if a trial were held in Ontario,” adding that Goldhar’s interest in vindicating his reputation in Ontario “fails to outweigh these concerns.”
“Israel is a clearly more appropriate forum for this claim to be heard,” Justice Suzanne Côté wrote for the majority.
The offending article, the court ruled, “was researched, written and edited in Israel, addressed to an Israeli audience, and focused on someone who is a public figure there. Any information written about the team and Mr. Goldhar would have a far greater impact on his reputation in Israel than in Canada.”
While “multijurisdictional” defamation claims are not new, “the exponential increase in multijurisdictional publications over the Internet has led to growing concerns about libel tourism and the possible assumption of jurisdiction by an unlimited number of forums.”
The three dissenting judges said the case boiled down to a single question: “When a Canadian citizen is allegedly defamed for his Canadian business practices – in an article published online in his home province by a foreign newspaper – is he entitled to vindicate his reputation in the courts of the province where he lives and maintains his business, and where the sting of the article’s comments is felt?”
The lower courts said yes, and “we agree,” concluded the minority opinion.
In a statement issued through his lawyer, Goldhar said he respects the court’s ruling, but noted that it “addresses the matter of jurisdiction only. This decision did not deal with the libel claim itself.”