Province Liable for Agents Actions: Defamation

Great case confirming the state’s liability for the actions of their agents and defamation compensation.    PDF OF ARTICLE

HALIFAX – A woman who was wrongly implicated in possible criminal activity by a provincial employee after she applied for a firearms licence has been awarded more than $50,000 in damages by a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge.

Court documents show that when Laura Doucette applied for the licence as part of a policing and corrections course, provincial firearms investigator David Grimes looked at her application in 2012 and became suspicious.

During his investigation, he approached some of Doucette’s instructors and warned them she may have been involved in an armed robbery when she was working at a Tim Hortons in 2009.

In an amended defence filed last October, Grimes and the provincial government admitted liability for defamation and breach of privacy. Grimes also submitted a brief written apology to Doucette.

Judge Denise Boudreau, in a ruling released Monday, said Grimes — a former police officer — didn’t say where he got the information and never bothered to check if it was true.

The judge concluded Grimes’ false and defamatory statements were “offensive and inexplicable,” and caused “havoc” in Doucette’s life.

“He did all of this wearing the cloak of a provincial (Department of Justice) investigator, with all of the credibility such a title would bring,” Boudreau’s decision says.

“He attended at the plaintiff’s school where he knew she was training for a law enforcement career, and where he knew allegations of criminal activity would have to be of enormous concern … The province is vicariously liable for actions committed by the defendant Grimes.”

The judge found Grimes’ defamatory statements regarding criminal activity were made directly to three people and indirectly to two more.

Doucette told the court she was kicked out of her course because of the rumours circulated by Grimes, but the judge determined that Success College did not eject her from the course.

However, Boudreau concluded the defamation was a “significantly contributing reason” for Doucette’s dismissal from a job placement with the security office at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Boudreau said Grimes’ ill-founded accusations were made in a cavalier fashion with callous disregard for the impact they would have on Doucette’s life.

“I also have no doubt that the events described in this decision had a significant negative effect upon her mental health, which had stabilized prior to the events,” the decision says.

However, the judge said she wasn’t persuaded that this represented a permanent setback for the woman, who is in her 30s.

Doucette received a firearms licence after re-applying in 2014, but she has since told the court she is no longer interested in a career in law enforcement or corrections. She now works in a group home.

Boudreau also concluded that Grimes had not acted in an intentionally malicious manner.

At one point, Grimes told the court he was given no specific training on how to do investigations when he started his job as a firearms investigator in 2012.

“Mr. Grimes acknowledged that in making these statements about the plaintiff … he was wrong,” the decision says. “He accepted responsibility for these errors in judgment.”

The judge awarded Doucette $2,640 for lost wages, $35,000 for general damages and $15,000 for aggravated damages.