The B.C. Court of Appeal has upheld a decision finding a man guilty of civil contempt for violating a court order that banned him from defaming a Richmond law firm.
The appeal stemmed from a "lengthy and acrimonious" dispute between shareholders of a Richmond-based supply store, TNG Packaging Ltd.
On Aug. 24, 2022, Guang Tian was served an interlocutory injunction — a temporary injunction pending a final decision — prohibiting him from "slandering, publishing or causing to be published any defamatory statements" in reference to a fellow shareholder's legal counsel and law firm.
According to the Court of Appeal decision issued last week, Tian made a series of allegations against Richmond-based Avid Law, its partners and employees in 2022.
Avid Law represents Junjie Yu, the shareholder who filed the original lawsuit against Tian and TNG.
Tian went to Avid Law's office between Aug. 19 and 23 last year and left copies of a pamphlet containing a photograph of David Chen, a partner at Avid Law, and a list of allegations against the law firm, wrote B.C. Court of Appeal justice Leonard Marchand.
In response to Tian's actions, Yu applied for and was granted an interlocutory injunction against Tian on Aug. 24, forbidding Tian from trespassing on Avid Law's premises and from publishing defamatory statements directly or indirectly referencing Avid Law, its partners and employees.
However, such statements were subsequently published between Aug. 24 and 26 through an email to the Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce and postings on Vansky.com, Van People, Yorkbbs.ca and the popular Chinese social media platform Little Red Book.
As such, Yu filed an application with the B.C. Supreme Court on Aug. 29, claiming Tian was in contempt of the court order. A B.C. Supreme Court chambers judge sided with Yu and issued her reasons on March 3 this year finding Tian guilty of contempt.
In the chambers judge's analysis quoted by Marchand, the judge found the statements were defamatory in nature, the complaints were the same as Tian's and the publications before and after the court order included "striking similarities." The judge also noted, although Tian claimed his daughter had created the postings, she did not file an affidavit about the claims.
Judge erred in law in finding of contempt: Appellant
In Tian's appeal against the finding of contempt, he claimed the chambers judge failed to consider whether the injunction order was "sufficiently precise and unambiguous" to support the finding and made a mistake in finding the statements published after the injunction came from email addresses or "online handles" owned or controlled by him.
He also argued the judge erred in dismissing the possibility his daughter or wife may have been responsible for the statements published after the injunction order was issued.
Justice Marchand disagreed, finding the injunction order issued on Aug. 24, 2022 "clearly prohibited the making of statements that were capable of lowering the reputation of Avid Law and Mr. Chen in the eyes of reasonable members of society."
Although Marchand agreed with Tian that the chambers judge appeared to have "misapprehended" evidence and Tian did not admit the defamatory statements published after the injunction order had come from his email addresses, he found it unclear whether this was essential to her reasoning and resulted in a miscarriage of justice.
Marchand explained this is because the judge correctly stated Tian denied publishing any statements after the injunction order and she "then set out cogent reasons for concluding that it was Mr. Tian who had published the statements at issue."
He found the judge based her decision on the parties' "lengthy and acrimonious" dispute, Tian's initial "disruptive" behaviour of preparing a document with "disparaging comments" about Avid Law, its partners and employees, threatening to go to the media and finally publishing and distributing documents with disparaging comments on more than one occasion.
There was a "close temporal connection" between Tian publishing and distributing the initial pamphlets, the granting of the injunction order, Tian's "discontinuance of distributing his 'printed missives'" and the subsequent email to the Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce and online posts, wrote Marchand.
The judge also considered "striking similarities" between Tian's printed materials, the email and online posts, concluding it "(defied) common sense" for Tian's daughter to be responsible for the email and posts following the injunction order, and found only Tian and his wife would have a complaint about Avid Law's interpreter because she was only used in their case.
No basis to interfere with original judge's decision: Court of Appeal justice
Marchand agreed some of the factors considered "do not point exclusively to Tian," but concluded "the constellation of factors identified by the judge cumulatively point directly and exclusively to him."
He added Tian was the only person who became "so upset that he threatened to publish disparaging information about Avid Law" and related parties, and ended up doing just that.
"Further, the only evidence suggesting that anyone else may have been involved was Mr. Tian’s rather meek assertion that he 'learned' that his daughter had made 'several postings of her own regarding Mr. David Chen,'" wrote Marchand.
"Notably, he did not assert that she had made the posts at issue."
Marchand also rejected Tian's arguments that the judge drew an adverse inference against his failure to file evidence from his daughter, "an apparently important witness."
He concluded there is "no reason to think judge lost sight of the basic task she identified for herself," which was to decide whether she was left with a reasonable doubt that Tian was guilty of civil contempt.
Marchand dismissed Tian's appeal. He explained although seeking an order for civil contempt "is a last rather than first resort," and Yu's contempt application "proceeded very quickly" after the post-injunction defamatory statements were published, the Court of Appeal has no basis to interfere with the judge's exercise of her discretionary power.
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