Lee Kuan Yew v. The Globe and Mail et al.

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January 25, 2001

Madam Justice Swinton decided to decline to strike a plea of qualified privilege in Lee Kuan Yew v. The Globe and Mail et al., notwithstanding that the matters reported on took place in Singapore in 1985. The action is one brought by the former Prime Minister and currently Senior Minister of Singapore against The Globe and Mail, the former President of Singapore whose statements were reported by The Globe and Mail, and others. In the article the former President, now a resident of Canada, decided to break his silence to speak out on the continuing suppression of dissent in Singapore and on his personal experience. The statements complained of relate to the circumstances under which he left the presidency in 1985. The plaintiff complained that the statements meant that he had invented false allegations concerning Mr. Nair and that he had maliciously directed government doctors to slip him hallucinatory drugs in an effort to destroy his good character.

Among the defences is a plea of qualified privilege. The Globe and Mail defendants plead that under the plaintiff's leadership and direction the Government of Singapore has used its substantial resources to prosecute, imprison or otherwise discourage those critical of the government. They say the public interest arises because the article concerns the discharge of the duties of the Prime Minister of Singapore, a country with which Canada has substantial cultural, trade and international political ties and that by reason of the suppression of dissent as pleaded it would be impossible for this discussion of a matter of public interest to be published in Singapore.

The plaintiff relied on the decision of Somers J. in Clement v. McGuinty [2000] O.J. No. 2466 (S.C.J.) to argue that the pleading with respect to the government's suppression of dissent was oppressive, would require a complex and lengthy production and discovery process and was calculated to embarrass the plaintiff. He also sought to strike the defence of qualified privilege primarily on the basis that it related to events 15 years ago in a foreign country and therefore did not present a matter which was immediately threatening, harmful or relevant to the Canadian public.

Madam Justice Swinton declined to strike the plea. She noted that the defence of qualified privilege is in a state of evolution, and has expanded in other jurisdictions. She concluded that an adequate assessment of the defendants' argument that qualified privilege should attach to the statements requires a factual context, that the question of timeliness was but one factor, and that the necessary factual inquiry should await a trial.

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