A British Columbia judge has awarded $50,000 in damages to a politician and leading climate scientist after he sued the National Post for defamation.
Andrew Weaver sued the newspaper, its publisher and several writers over four columns that were published in late 2009 and early 2010, which he alleged implied he was "untrustworthy, unscientific and incompetent."
Weaver is now a Green party member of B.C.'s legislature, but at the time he was a University of Victoria professor who had participated in the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations agency.
He alleged the columns implied he tried to divert public attention from a scandal involving the IPCC by linking the fossil fuel industry to break-ins at his office, and that he distorted and concealed scientific data.
The scandal in question was dubbed "Climategate," in which hackers leaked thousands of emails from a British climate centre in 2009. The emails were embraced by climate change skeptics who said they contained proof that global warming was a scientific conspiracy.
The Post columns reported that Weaver had pointed to the "fossil fuel industry" as the culprits behind two break-ins in his university office, and that he had implied a connection between the break-ins and Climategate.
Weaver said he had told a Post reporter that the fossil fuel industry was benefiting from an overall campaign to discredit climate science, but he never suggested that it was responsible for security breaches at the university.
He also alleged that the columns had falsely implied that he had distorted and concealed scientific data in exchange for government funding and to promote a public agenda about climate change.
The National Post could not immediately be reached for comment. Former publisher Gordon Fisher, as well as columnists Terence Corcoran, Peter Foster and Kevin Libin, were all named in the legal action.
The newspaper argued the articles were about Weaver's public actions and words, not his character. It also argued they were protected by the defence of fair comment, which essentially allows writers to state opinions if they are in the public interest and based on fact.
B.C. Supreme Court Judge Emily Burke disagreed with the defendants, concluding that an ordinary reader would infer defamatory meanings from the columns — including that Weaver was "deceitful" and "avaricious."
"The reality is the combination and cumulative effect of these articles is such as to adversely impact on Dr. Weaver's reputation and integrity as a scientist," she wrote. "Imputations of dishonest behaviour on the part of a scientist or professor in that role can constitute defamation."
She awarded $50,000 in general damages, and also ordered the Post to remove the articles from its electronic databases, withdraw any consent given to third parties to re-publish the columns, and publish a full retraction online.
Weaver wrote on Twitter on Friday that he was "thrilled" with the decision.