The plaintiff, a Board member of the BCMA, distributed private information from Board meetings to non-Board members. At a subsequent Board meeting, allegations were made against the plaintiff regarding her alleged breach of confidentiality provisions in the Code of Conduct and the matter was passed onto a Code of Conduct committee for investigation. The president of the BCMA then sent a letter out to all members notifying them of the investigation into the alleged breach of the Code. The plaintiff sued the BCMA for defamation on the basis of this letter and other communications. The trial judge and Court of Appeal agreed that the letter was defamatory, but that it was made on an occasion of qualified privilege. The Board had a duty to inform the membership of such an issue.

[2014] B.C.J. No. 833

2014 BCCA 162

British Columbia Court of Appeal

I.T. Donald, M.V. Newbury and N.J. Garson JJ.A.

April 30, 2014

The plaintiff, a member of the British Columbia Medical Association ("BCMA") Board, was of the opinion that the Board was not adequately serving its members and that it was not open and transparent with respect to its decision-making processes. On various occasions, she expressed her beliefs and published confidential information about the Board's private meetings to an internet chat room and to other non-Board member physicians. At a subsequent Board meeting, it was alleged that she had breached the confidentiality provisions in the Code of Conduct, and the Board decided to refer the issue to a Code of Conduct Committee for investigation. A motion was passed at that meeting for a discussion "ex camera" so that the fact of the matter could be communicated to the membership. The president of the BCMA then sent a letter out to all members informing them that there would be a Code of Conduct investigation into the plaintiff's alleged breaches. The plaintiff claimed that the letter and other communications were defamatory.

The trial judge determined that the letter was defamatory, but that the communication occurred on an occasion of qualified privilege, and was not made out of malice. The Court of Appeal agreed and found that the investigation was a matter of legitimate concern to the membership, and the letter did not go beyond what was warranted in the situation. The occasion of qualified privilege arose from a relationship between the Board and the members of the BCMA which gave rise to a duty or interest on the part of the Board to communicate the fact of the alleged breach of confidentiality and investigation to the membership, and the corresponding interest in the membership to receive the information.