Ex-U of O prof to pay $1M

Former University of Ottawa professor, Denis Rancourt, has lost his appeal at the Ontario Court of Appeal and now must pay more than $1 million in damages and costs, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

The judges unanimously rejected Rancourt’s appeal, after he was found to have defamed U of O professor Joanne St. Lewis.

Rancourt’s legal troubles began when he referred to St. Lewis on his blog as U of O president, Allan Rock’s “house negro.”

St. Lewis sued for defamation in 2011, where Rancourt refused to attend the proceedings after the first day. He came back last June to hear the jury rule against him.

Rancourt argued in his appeal that the judge didn’t explain “fair comment” to the jury, and that the verdict violated his right to freedom of expression. He also said Ontario Superior Court Justice Michel Charbonneau, who ordered him to remove the defamatory comments from the Internet, and refrain from any future comments,  was biased.

The appeal judges ruled that Rancourt’s freedom of expression did not allow him to defame St. Lewis, and that he made no attempt to prove his Constitutional right during the trial. They also ruled that there was no evidence that Charbonneau was biased against Rancourt.

Rancourt, a previously tenured professor, was dismissed in 2009 for giving an A+ to all 23 students in his advanced physics course the previous year.  An arbitrator ruled against him in early 2014, when he tried to appeal the university’s decision. The Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa (APUO) filed for judicial review following the arbitrator’s decision, according to a March 10, 2014 statement.

“The APUO is extremely disappointed in the decision rendered in Professor Denis Rancourt’s case. While the decision not only upheld the Employer’s unjust dismissal decision, the arbitrator also made some troubling statements concerning academic freedom which can have a profoundly negative impact on academics everywhere,” said the statement.