Know your rights and recourses!
Defamation, harassment, and intimidation have become issues for the agricultural community in recent years. This page was created to inform producers about the legal concepts associated with these issues and offer tools and ways to handle the various situations that may arise. Specifically, it deals with the notion of breaking and entering on private property and potential recourses under both civil and criminal law.
What is defamation?
Generally speaking, defamation consists of the communication of statements or writings that cause someone to lose esteem or consideration or that arouse unfavourable or unpleasant feelings about someone else. Statements may be considered defamatory by virtue of what they express directly or what they insinuate, for example through the use of irony or the association of facts. The assessment of the defamatory nature of targeted statements is made according to an objective standard. Thus, the question must be asked whether an ordinary citizen would consider that the remarks made, taken as a whole, bring the reputation of the targeted person into disrepute. This means that not every critical or unfavourable comment will automatically be deemed defamatory: each case must be examined on its own merits.
What about harassment and intimidation?
The courts define harassment as vexatious conduct characterized by repeated actions, words, or behaviours that are intentionally offensive, contemptuous, or hostile toward a person or persons and that result in detrimental consequences for them..
Harassment is based on behaviour—in the general sense of the term—as opposed to defamation, which has to do with words.
The Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien defines intimidation as an offence in which one person—with the intent of illegally forcing another person to do or refrain from doing something—inflicts violence towards another person or their family, damages their property, persists in following them from place to place, or surrounds their home or workplace.
What about freedom of expression?
In Quebec, every person has the right to have his dignity, honour, and reputation safeguarded. These protections are enshrined in the Civil Code of Québec and the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
These rights must, however, be reconciled with the other rights that every person has, including freedom of expression. Thus, the right to freedom of expression must be exercised with respect for the right to protection of reputation, and vice versa. The role of the courts is therefore to strike a balance between these two rights and not to arbitrate matters of courtesy, politeness, or taste.
What purpose does a civil remedy have?
An action for defamation, harassment, or intimidation, may seek to condemn the perpetrator:
- To cease the alleged acts and/or withdraw the defamatory statements;
- To pay a sum of money in the form of compensatory damages and/or punitive damages;
- To publish an apology.
What must be proven to win your case?
To be successful, the plaintiff must prove fault, damage, and the existence of a causal link between the fault and the alleged damage.
Limitation period to file a lawsuit
One year from the day you find out about the defamatory statement. However, this period is three months if the remarks are published in a newspaper.
Regardless of the amount claimed, it is not possible to sue before the Small Claims Division of the Court of Québec.
Before the Court of Québec if the amount at stake is less than $85,000.*
Before the Superior Court of Québec if the amount at stake is $85,000* or more*.
*These thresholds are subject to change.
Three years from the time of the offending behavior.
Before the Small Claims Division of the Court of Quebec if the amount at stake is $15,000* or less.
Before the Court of Quebec if the amount at stake is less than $85,000*.
Before the Superior Court, if the amount at stake is $85,000* or more.
How to deal with defamation, harassment, or intimidation?
If you are a victim of defamation, harassment, or intimidation, it is important to keep evidence of the harassment, defamatory statements, or intimidation that has been directed towards you. To this end, it is recommended that you keep a written record of the events. Write down the sequence of events so that you can remind yourself of them at a later time, for your testimony in court, for example. Also, take photos of the elements that may serve as evidence of damages.
You should also:
- Contact your regional federation or your specialized federation to inform them of your situation and seek advice;
- Consult a legal advisor to determine your best options.
Below we provide a non-exhaustive list of actions you may consider to stop the intimidation, defamation, or harassment prior to taking legal action, depending on the particulars of your case. Each situation is accompanied by an example drawn from case law to illustrate how the courts have dealt with a similar issue. Note that very few decisions exist on such matters in the agricultural field.
Breaking and entering
The following section outlines more specifically the rights and recourses of producers in the event of illegal entry into their farms by protesters or activists.
In the event that protestors break into your farm and cause damage, civil and criminal recourses are possible.
Activists on farms: How to handle them?
If activists come onto your property:
- Calmly but firmly ask the spokesperson or leader of the group to leave your property, specifically by invoking the right to private property and biosecurity rules;
- Call 911 to have the police service intervene if the activists refuse to comply, if they threaten your safety or that of your employees, or if they damage your property;
- Call the UPA network at 1-888-285-4976;
- Take photos and videos;
- Take notes to remind yourself of the sequence of events.
If a protest is taking place on a public roadway in front of your property:
- Call the police if the protest impairs traffic or endangers your safety or that of public roadway users;
- Request that the police service monitor the situation on the scheduled date, if it is known.
Preventing cases of breaking and entering: what steps should a producer take?
- Display signs stating that the property is private, that entering the property without permission is not allowed, and that biosecurity rules apply to your buildings and/or around your fields;
- Install surveillance cameras (indoor and outdoor);
- Restrict entries and lock buildings if possible;
- Use a visitor log that includes a policy governing the presence of visitors in restricted areas;
- Implement best practices and train your employees on animal welfare;
- Ask job applicants why they want to work on your farm;
- Add a clause to your employment contracts stating that employees may not take unauthorized photos or videos;
- Check your employees’ references.
L’Union des producteurs agricoles
555 Boul. Roland-Therrien, Suite 100
Longueuil, Québec, J4H 3Y9
|Documents||Activists on farms: how to handle them|