A good reputation is part of your self-worth and dignity. Once harmed, a good reputation is hard to get back.

The law of defamation protects a person’s reputation from harm that is not justified.

Defamation is communication about a person that tends to hurt their reputation. It causes people who read or hear the communication to think less of the person. 

The law doesn't protect you from a personal insult or a remark that injures only your pride. It protects your reputation in the minds of others, not your feelings.

For example, if someone in a public meeting calls you a nasty word, your feelings might be hurt, but you would have a difficult time showing the communication lowered your reputation in the minds of others. 

If someone tells others you cheat in your business dealings, then you would have a much stronger claim that this harms your reputation and is defamatory. 

The law tries to balance a person’s right to protect their reputation against competing rights such as the guarantee of freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Sometimes, even though someone makes a defamatory statement that harms a person's reputation, the law may say another right, like freedom of expression, is more important. 

This legal information is about civil defamation. It does not talk about criminal defamation. Defamation can also be a crime under the Criminal Code, but criminal charges for defamation are rare. This information does not give legal advice.

  pdf Download this Defamation page in pdf. (317 KB)

Last reviewed: January 2021
Reviewed for legal accuracy by: Lawyer Robert Mroz, McInnes Cooper

Thank you to Schulich School of Law student Michael Evoy for support in developing this content.

Content adapted, with permission, from People’s Law School of BC.