Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Stranger than Fiction, Volume I

Not to say that workplace law doesn't yield a wide variety of mind-boggling and entertaining cases (the employee who, while on disability leave due to back pain, wins a golf tournament; the Human Resources personnel who, upon being asked to schedule an exam around a required religious observance, told the employee that she was sure God would be very understanding that he had to work...etc.), but civil litigation generally has a wide spectrum of cases that just make you want to shake your head.

Fire-Breathing Dragons on the CBC

Most of you will have heard of the CBC's show Dragon's Den (I believe it's a Canadian syndication of a BBC show). As reality shows go, it's a little less of a game and a little more reality. It involves entrepreneurs (or, in cases that are usually unsuccessful, wannabe entrepreneurs) making a pitch to five of Canada's most successful people (the "Dragons"), trying to get investments.

It isn't free money, even for those who succeed in their pitch: They're trying to sell a part of their company to the Dragons, and the Dragons are trying to make purchases that will make them money. (That said, even for those who don't get an offer, it can be great publicity for good ideas.)

But the Dragons are not only scrutinizing; they can be vicious and unforgiving. Anyone who has watched the show, even once, knows this well. Unfortunately for John Turmel, he had never seen an episode before he went on the show, and was, perhaps, unprepared for the roasting he had in store.

Hence, the litigation, Turmel v. CBC, with three reported decisions:

Justice Lofchik's decision of September 27, 2010, dismissing Mr. Turmel's suit on motion by CBC;
Justice Arrell's decision of March 17, 2011, dismissing a second suit on motion by CBC; and
The decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal, dismissing Mr. Turmel's appeals on both of the above decisions.

So what happened?

Well, this is best summed up by Justice Lofchik in the second paragraph of his decision:

The producers of the show decided, in their discretion, to include excerpts of Mr. Turmel’s appearance on the show in a one minute segment that was broadcast on the January 13, 2010 episode of the Dragons’ Den. In the segment broadcast, the panel of Dragons was, to say the least, not kind to Mr. Turmel, one member of the panel having told him she had no idea what he was talking about, another invited him to burst into flames, and a third told him he was “blowing air up a dead horse’s ass”.

Mr. Turmel sued in defamation (without having complied with notice requirements under the Libel and Slander Act) though Justice Lofchik noted that "[u]pon examining the statement of claim, one might also glean the suggestion of a claim for breach of contract."

Justice Lofchik examined the information and warnings that had been given to Mr. Turmel prior to the taping of the show, including the Contestant's Guide which warns that "Anything goes" and a Consent giving the CBC full discretion in deciding what to broadcast, if anything. He concluded that there was no genuine issue for trial, and dismissed the action.

In the mean time, eight days before the motion before Justice Lofchik was heard, CBC broadcast the segment again. So Mr. Turmel initiated a second action in November 2010, this time expressly pleading breach of contract, on the basis of the second broadcast.

Not surprisingly, CBC brought another motion for summary judgment, and not suprisingly, they won this too.

Mr. Turmel, of course, appealed both Orders, again unsuccessfully.

Interesting facts: Mr. Turmel represented himself, but has been ordered to pay over $18,000 toward CBC's costs. This is likely a fairly small fraction of CBC's overall costs of defending the action, and enforcing costs awards is not always easy.


This blog is not intended to, and does not, provide legal advice to any person in respect of any particular legal issue, and does not create a solicitor-client relationship with any readers, but rather provides general legal information. If you have a legal issue or possible legal issue, contact a lawyer.

1 comment:

  1. Jct: I want 3 things: 1) Consent form sent with original info kit, not sprung last minute; 2) Cannot include exculpatory clause for criminal offences; 3) Cannot include clause that says I can't sue to a court. I'm urging the Supreme Court that people should always be able to challenge contracts in court; CBC should not claim immunity from criminal offences; CBC should include the Consent with the original kit. And I wasn't suing for defamation by those silly names, that's opinion, I was suing for what the editors did to my words, not theirs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UV0L2hyqAZc is the whole show with 1-minute smear.