Monday, November 18, 2013

Toronto Life Faces Libel Suit from Public University

Logo of The City of Toronto
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Media lawyers are watching with interest as Canada's third-largest university, York University, has served a libel notice on Toronto Life magazine and award-winning writer Katherine Laidlaw, the Toronto Star ( reported last month.

Laidlaw's Fortress York article in Toronto Life's October issue allegedly portrays the public research university's campus as a "hunting ground" for sexual predators, according to the Star article. Although Laidlaw's piece cites the school's bolstering its security force and installing emergency telephones campus-wide in response to a series of sexual assaults, the article purportedly claims that York's female students remain fearful concerning campus security.

University President Mamdouh Shoukri blasted the Toronto Life article for presenting a distorted view of campus safety. York sent libel notices to the magazine and Laidlaw last month, a pre-requisite to filing a libel action. The Star article quotes media lawyers and academics who question whether a public institution, such as York, may be a plaintiff in a defamation suit, noting that government entities, such as municipalities, cannot be.

Over the past couple of years, two higher education institutions, Indiana-based Butler University, and Thomas Cooley Law School in Michigan (see "TUOL" posts 4/10/13 & 12/14/12) have sued for libel, but both are privately funded. Not that anyone has asked the occasionally academic staff of "TUOL," but unfettered communication and free thought are supposed to thrive in university settings, so  large public institutions going after journalists seems, at the very least, impolite for Canadians.
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