Ontario claim attacking a report of concerning behavior and university response may proceed

On December 20th, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice dismissed a motion to strike a defamation and negligence claim that arose out of a student’s report of concerning behavior to her university.

The plaintiff alleges he was wronged by the student’s report of the following facts and the university’s further (and allegedly negligent) “reporting” and “publication” of the following facts (as summarized by the Court):

  • Two weeks earlier the plaintiff had approached the individual defendant after class and advised her he really liked her, had strong feelings for her, and wanted to pursue his feelings in a relationship knowing she had a boyfriend.
  • That the plaintiff told the individual defendant he was not able to sleep, paced in his bedroom all night to fall asleep, and also advised her he could not live without her.
  • That the individual defendant was concerned for the plaintiff’s health as he might hurt himself and did not seem to have any friends or family in the area.
  • That the individual defendant had reported that the plaintiff had asked her out four times and had said things that made her feel uncomfortable.

The Court held that there was no basis for concluding the claim was about an academic matter within the university’s exclusive jurisdiction. It also held that the claim, as pleaded, appeared to disclose a reasonable cause of action.

This preliminary decision is of no great significance, though the issue raised by the claim itself is important to post secondary educational institutions. Colleges and universities in Ontario and elsewhere have worked hard to encourage community members to report concerning behavior so it can be properly assessed and managed. Notably, in this case the university and the student defendant are jointly represented.

Thode v University of Ottawa, 2012 ONSC 7284 (CanLII).

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