The Impact of the Tort of Defamation on Public Discourse About Racism
Osgoode Hall Law School - York University
Supreme Court Law Review, Vol. 44, No. 2(d), 2009
Where once ascriptions of race gave rise to defamation suits, now it is allegations of racism that are apt to prompt legal action. On the one hand, it is gratifying to see validated in tort law the notion that allegations of racism lower individuals in the estimation of ordinary members of the public. On the other, the content, structure, and practical dynamics of defamation law give rise to concerns about the potential of such suits to suppress public discourse about racism. Defamation is an easy claim to make and a difficult one to refute. This should be of concern to anyone who values freedom of expression, particularly so when the statements sought to be suppressed through a defamation suit involve allegations of racism leveled against powerful individuals and organizations. When a doctrinal tilt in favor of plaintiffs is combined with unequal race relations, defamation law becomes a very effective means by which to intimidate equality seekers into silence. If, as a society, we are committed to rooting out racism, we must first have the freedom to name it. At present, the tort of defamation operates to compromise that freedom. Reform is required to better balance the important values that defamation law protects against the value of freedom of expression so as to encourage rather than suppress public discussion of racism.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 13
Keywords: Defamation, Libel, Tort Law, Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Speech, Racism, EqualityAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: April 26, 2010 ; Last revised: April 27, 2010
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