(CN) - From a jail cell in Miami, former media baron Conrad Black won the right to pursue libel claims against a former head of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and others in a Canadian court room in his former home province of Ontario where the alleged libel was widely published.
The victory was a technical one for Black, who was made Baron Black of Crossharbor by Queen Elizabeth II in 2001, as his lawyers announced they had reached a settlement of the libel case against Richard Breeden, the former SEC chairman and directors of the company Black formerly controlled, Hollinger International.
The case began in 2005 when Black filed defamation suits against Breeden and the Hollinger directors over a company report Breeden wrote accusing Black of running a "corporate kleptocracy" and other allegations which were reported on by Ontario newspapers where Black's family lives.
The Hollinger directors, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, moved to dismiss Black's suits arguing that transnational libel claims should be tried in the jurisdiction where the allegedly defamatory remarks were made, in this case the United States.
Ontario's Court of Appeal disagreed finding that because Black's reputation in Ontario could be damaged there was a "real and substantial" connection to the province.
Before the Supreme Court of Canada, Breeden and the Hollinger directors implied that Black was a 'libel tourist' shopping for a forum where the law was most sympathetic to the potential damage to his reputation.
Unlike U.S. law, Canadian law does not require a showing of malice to sustain a libel suit.
Canadian law also favors bringing libel claims where there is "the most substantial harm to reputation." Even though Black is no longer a Canadian citizen, he spent most of his adult life in Ontario, started his first newspaper there and established his reputation as a businessman there.
Writing for the court, Justice Louis LeBel agreed with the lower courts that the connection to Ontario was real because under Canadian law "the tort of defamation occurs upon publication of a defamatory statement to a third party. In this case, publication occurred when the impugned statements were read, downloaded and republished in Ontario by three newspapers."
Having established that Ontario could exercise jurisdiction, LeBel said the court had to balance whether it was more appropriate and, or, convenient for the case to proceed in an Illinois court as Breeden and the Hollinger directors wanted.
LeBel said the balance was tipped away from the inconvenience to the mostly American defendants of having to fight a legal battle in Canada by the "particular weight of the alleged harm to Lord Black's reputation in Ontario" and the deference Canadian courts normally give to lower court decisions in the absence of legal error.
Conrad Black will finish serving his 42 month sentence for fraud and obstruction of justice in October.