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High Court Affirms Libel Award

July 21, 1995 GMT

OTTAWA (AP) _ The Supreme Court on Thursday affirmed Canada’s largest libel award, rejecting calls for U.S.-style defamation laws that would provide greater protection from libel suits.

The court dismissed an appeal by the Church of Scientology and its lawyer, Morris Manning, of the 1991 award of $1.6 million to Casey Hill, then an Ontario government attorney.

At issue was whether public officials can sue for libel over remarks about the performance of their duties.

In its judgment, the Supreme Court stressed the importance of a good reputation, particularly to a lawyer’s professional life.

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``It is an attribute that must, just as much as freedom of expression, be protected by society’s laws,″ Justice Peter Cory wrote on behalf of the court.

Hill, who has since become a judge, initiated a libel suit against the church and Manning in 1984.

It was prompted by statements Manning made at a news conference about Hill’s legal conduct related to a police raid on Scientology headquarters in Toronto. Hill had been advising police.

The church, as well as several media and writers groups, argued at a February hearing that current libel law violates the Charter of Rights’ guarantee of free expression.

The Writers’ Union of Canada, the Canadian Association of Journalists and three other groups said people must be free to criticize public institutions _ even if it means attacking the work of government employees.

The media coalition advocated the U.S. standard. It requires a public official to prove the defendant either knew the defamatory statement was false or made it in reckless disregard of whether it was true.

Cory said he saw no reason to adopt the rule in Canada.

The Rev. Al Buttnor, spokesman for the Church of Scientology in Toronto, denounced Thursday’s ruling.

``Freedom to criticize the conduct of public officials in the exercise of their duties should be the right of all Canadians,″ he said in a statement.

Kent Thomson, Hill’s lawyer, said the ruling was ``a complete vindication of Mr. Hill and his reputation.″