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Hill v Church of Scientology of Toronto

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Hill v Church of Scientology of Toronto


Hill v Church of Scientology of Toronto, [1995] 2 SCR 1130


Morris Manning and The Church of Scientology of Toronto


S. Casey Hill




Supreme Court of Canada


La Forest, L'Heureux-Dubé, Gonthier, Cory, McLachlin, Iacobucci, and Major JJ



Area of law

Application of the Charter


Is the common law of defamation consistent with the Charter?


The Church of Scientology held a press conference on the courthouse steps, during which its counsel read from and commented upon allegations contained in the notice of motion by which the Church intended to commence criminal contempt proceedings against Hill, a Crown attorney. At the proceedings, the allegations that Hill had misled a judge and breached orders sealing certain Church documents were found to be untrue and without foundation. Hill then commenced an action for damages in libel against the Church and its counsel. Both were found jointly liable for general damages of $300,000, and the Church alone was found liable for aggravated damages of $500,000 and punitive damages of $800,000. The judgment was upheld on appeal, which the Church appealed to the Supreme Court.


  1. Is the common law of defamation consistent with the Charter?


Appeal dismissed.


Cory, writing for the majority, discusses the way that common law rules may be challenged with respect to the Charter in private litigation. He says that it is appropriate for the court to make incremental changes in the common law to reflect societal changes. He says that when a government action is challenged, the claimant alleges that that the state has breached its constitutional duties and that they must justify this. However, private parties do not owe each other any constitutional duties and therefore cannot found their cause of action on a Charter right.

He goes on to state that the only Charter claim that can be made in private litigation is that the application of the common law is inconsistent with Charter values. Therefore, in private cases, the Charter only applies to the common law stating that it must be applied with respect to Charter values; it cannot be challenged to be infringing upon Charter guaranteed rights and freedoms.


The courts must interpret and develop the common law in a manner that is consistent with Charter values.

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