Ontario’s top court has allowed a defamation suit against B’nai Brith Canada to proceed.
In a ruling released last month, Ontario’s Court of Appeal dismissed an attempt by B’nai Brith to throw out a lawsuit brought against it by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) for suggesting the union supports Palestinian terrorism.
As well, B’nai Brith was ordered to pay $15,000 in costs.
“CUPW is a public sector union. From time to time, it takes positions on political and human rights issues,” the three-judge panel stated in the ruling.
The case goes back to 2018, when B’nai Brith published a news release noting that CUPW had cooperated in joint projects with the Palestinian Postal Service Workers Union.
B’nai Brith charged that the Palestinian union glorified terrorism on its Facebook page and that CUPW “had aligned itself with the path of violence and extremism.”
In a second news release two days later, B’nai Brith stated that CUPW’s “radical leadership has refused to respond to our questions on why it would partner with a terror-supporting organization,” and wondered how CUPW “can legally compel its Jewish and Israeli members to pay fees which may be used to support a foreign organization that wants to see them murdered.”
The statement continued: “We will continue to hold institutions accountable for their links to terrorism and antisemitism.”
CUPW sued for libel, saying B’nai Brith alleged it supports terrorism and that it is antisemitic.
B’nai Brith tried to have the action dismissed under Ontario’s so-called anti-SLAPP legislation, which prevents lawsuits intended to stifle speech and legitimate criticism of matters in the public interest.
In early 2020, an Ontario Superior Court judge denied B’nai Brith’s request, ruling that, in fact, CUPW had a “solid case” for defamation.
“Not only would it be difficult to prove that CUPW literally supports terrorism, violence or antisemitism, the evidence also suggests it will be difficult to show that (the Palestinian union) officially supports terrorism,” the lower court found.
It added that B’nai Brith had “acted on assumptions without exercising due diligence” based on “a cursory internet search and review of Facebook pages,” and apparently ignored “CUPW’s own policies and declarations against violence and racism.”
Like a corporation, a union may be defamed, “although, of course, it cannot suffer hurt feelings,” the court found.
B’nai Brith appealed, saying the judge had erred on several points.
The Court of Appeal disagreed, repeating the lower court’s finding that the Facebook posts B’nai Brith relied on for its claim that the Palestinian union supported terrorism were not made by the union but an individual.
It rejected B’nai Brith’s arguments that CUPW has suffered only minor harm, if any, and that the Jewish group’s right to free expression had been chilled because it has not published on the subject since being sued.
The court noted that the union supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
CUPW’s defamation claim has yet to be tested in court.
B’nai Brith said it is studying the ruling and would not comment on a possible appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
In a separate matter, a libel action brought against B’nai Brith by pro-Palestinian activist Dimitri Lascaris continues.
The case dates to 2016 when B’nai Brith published an article and a tweet alleging Lascaris had advocated “on behalf of terrorists who have murdered Israeli citizens” following a trip he made to Israel.
Lascaris, who was the Green Party’s justice critic at the time, sued for libel, and B’nai Brith moved to dismiss the action using anti-SLAPP legislation. The organization was successful in Ontario’s Superior Court but that decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal, which reinstated Lascaris’s suit.
Last October, the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear an appeal from B’nai Brith.