Bishop Michael Bird of the diocese of Niagara has filed a defamation lawsuit with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice against blogger David Jenkins.
The suit alleges that, in his blog Anglican Samizdat, Jenkins has published comments about Bird that were injurious to his “credit, character and reputation…in his office as spiritual leader and Bishop of the Diocese and in his occupation as priest…”
Hamilton lawyer Graydon Sheppard, who is representing the bishop, told the Anglican Journal that the lawsuit was a last resort measure from the bishop. “He, and to some extent, his wife, have been under constant attack for more than two years by this blogger…” Jenkins, he added, “has gone beyond fair comment and debate about doctrinal matters.”
According to Sheppard, bloggers are subject to the same libel laws as journalists or other writers when it comes to publishing material. “The basic law of the country is that you can’t hold somebody up to hatred, ridicule and contempt, and that’s what we say this blogger has been doing,” he said. “So the bishop put up with this for as long as any human being…could do and finally resorted to the only weapon he has to stop it…the primary goal is to stop the personal attacks.”
Douglas Simpson, the Hamilton lawyer representing Jenkins, declined comment; however, the statement of defence filed with the court denies “in all cases…that the words, pictures or sounds of said broadcasts or postings were libelous or defamatory.” It goes on to state that Jenkins “was exercising his right to freedom of religion and expression, and that the statements of the Defendant were either true or they constituted expression of opinion and were fair comment.”
Jenkins’ defence also asserts that his comments were “…intended to be humourous and make use of satire, sarcasm, irony, hyperbole, wit, ‘send up’ and other types of humour to make a point other than what one would take literally from the comments. In those cases, no reasonable viewer or reader of the blog postings would be expected to believe that the statements are true…”
The statement also says that Jenkins was not notified of the bishop’s complaints in writing within six weeks of the libel coming to the bishop’s attention as required by the Libel and Slander Act, and that this “failure deprived the Defendant of the opportunity to investigate the words complained of or to publish, if appropriate, a correction or an apology.”
The bishop is seeking $400,000 in damages as well as legal costs. The suit also seeks “an interim and a permanent injunction requiring the defendant and any Internet service provider or host sites to remove or cause to be removed the web site found at www.anglicansamizdat.net and any and all defamatory material that the defendant has posted or caused to be posted anywhere else on the internet; an interim and permanent injunction prohibiting the defendant from publishing or causing to be published any further comment about the plaintiff.”
Editors Note: This is a slightly changed article from the original.