The limitation period to commence an action for defamation in British Columbia is two years from the time of the publication, regardless of when the plaintiff becomes aware of the libel or slander.
Unlike some other torts, a claimant in a defamation action will have great difficulty convincing a British Columbia Court that the two year limitation period in which to commence an action should not start running until the plaintiff becomes aware of the defamatory publication.
While section 6 of the British Columbia Limitation Act enables plaintiffs in certain types of actions to argue that a limitation period does not commence to run until the necessary facts are “within the plaintiff’s means of knowledge,” this section does not apply to defamation actions. Section 6(3) lists the types of actions to which postponement of the running of time under this rule may apply, and defamation is not one of them.
Mr. Justice Burnyeat of the British Columbia Supreme Court, after carefully considering the relevant Limitation Act provisions, confirmed that there can be no postponement of the limitation period for defamation actions in Pootlass v. Pootlass (1999), 63 B.C.L.R. (3d) 305 (in chambers). The Court of Appeal confirmed this conclusion in Zanetti v. Bonniehon Enterprises Ltd., 2003 BCCA 507.
When considering whether a limitation period has expired, one must remember that each publication of defamatory material gives rise to a separate cause of action. Even if an action for an original defamatory publication becomes statute barred by the Limitation Act, a plaintiff may still pursue an action arising from a later republication of the original defamatory statement.