Without taking a position on the Steele Auto Group’s plans to bulldoze houses to expand their Honda dealership, let me say that I’ll keep this loathsome bullying in mind when the time comes for me to buy a new car:
A Halifax man who runs a satire website has received a cease and desist letter from a lawyer representing a car dealership he mocked for their expansion plans.
Matt Brand — who writes at brandreview.ca — posted a piece this week about Halifax Honda, which has come under fire recently for expansion plans in the city’s north end that involve demolishing several residential properties.
Steele Group Launches Hondas Not Homes Campaign was the tongue-in-cheek headline on the story. “In direct response to the Homes Not Hondas Campaign, the Steele Auto Group has countered by launching a campaign of their own: Hondas not Homes.”
Brand has since removed the story from his site.
The cease and desist missive, penned by Halifax lawyer Nancy Rubin, says that a small hashtag at the bottom of the article labelling it satire does not make it defensible.
“While you are free to express your opinions on matters of public interest, so long as they are based on true facts, the creation of an entirely false group page and fake quotes is indefensible,” Rubin said.
“Even if considered ‘satire,’ satire is not protected speech in and of itself.”
Rubin insisted Brand “disable any public representation that the Steele Group launched or in any way was affiliated with the ‘Hondas not Homes campaign.’ Further, the false quotes must be removed and links to the defamatory postings disabled.”
I practice family and criminal law, not libel and slander cases, but I doubt this relatively mild, obvious satire is really defamatory. Anyone who thinks it’s a real story probably believes Marilyn Manson is going door to door trying to shock people, too. But it doesn’t have to be: Steele is a large company pushing around one man because it can. The process is the punishment.
But as McDonald’s and Barbra Streisand found out, you can win a battle like this but lose the public-opinion war badly. I hadn’t heard of brandreview.ca nor the Homes Not Hondas Campaign before, but I certainly have now. And I bet I’m not alone.