Case Report – Alberta Court of Appeal case discusses qualified privilege and threat reports

Chohan v. Cadsky was decided by the Alberta Court of Appeal on October 16th. The court found that three individuals acted within the scope of a qualified privilege in reporting expressions of concern about a colleague’s mental health and were therefore not liable for defaming the colleague. The Court summarized its finding in the following paragraph:

We dismiss the appeals against Dr. Ohlhauser, Dr. Baker, Dr. Gardener and Capital Health, as we are not persuaded that the trial judge made any reversible error in dismissing those actions. We will address the arguments separately, but commence with the following summary. Dr. Ohlhauser, Dr. Baker, and Dr. Gardener each testified that as a result of expressions of concern from others and/or their personal observations, each had an honest concern about the health of a colleague, and believed that, as a medical professional, he had a duty to either investigate this concern, or inform someone who was in a position to investigate. Each contacted the person he believed appropriate to provide assistance or investigate to ensure that there was no cause for concern. There is no evidence that any one of them contacted individuals who had no interest in knowing and no responsibility to receive the communication because of the position he held in Capital Health. Dr. Block, Dr. Hibbert and Dr. Gardener, the three persons to whom communications were made, each had a responsibility for ensuring that colleagues within their service did not have health issues that might affect patient care or their own well being. These three defendants were not engaged in idle gossip or general discussion in making these communications. In our view, the defence of qualified privilege was designed for exactly such a situation.

The principled aspect of this statement is not surprising, and the application of the qualified privilege defence will always turn on the specific facts. However, given that bona fide reports of potential threats should be encouraged as part of managing workplace (and campus) violence, the case is worth a note.

Chohan v. Cadsky, 2009 ABCA 334.

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