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In Canada, if a person is in the habit of embedding false allegations inside questions, e.g., the classic:

"Have you stopped beating your wife?"

is there a point where this becomes defamatory (assuming an interaction between private citizens that is widely witnessed and the allegation is indeed false)? Or does the usual response along the lines of "I'm just asking a question, don't I have a right to ask questions? He/she can answer no." hold up?

Are there stricter rules or more serious consequences if an attorney is in the habit of asking witnesses questions that are structured this way?

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    The rules are likely different for an attorney in court, vs a news media outlet, vs a private citizen. Are you looking for an answer for each example? If so you might want to specify this in the question. Jan 22 at 19:11

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is there a point where this becomes defamatory (assuming an interaction between private citizens that is widely witnessed and the allegation is indeed false)?

In defamation cases, as in the law generally, courts look at the overall context of the statement. Even if not in the form of an affirmative statement of fact, if the statement, in context, implies a false and reputation harming statement of fact and would be understood that way by the audience to the statement to whom the statement is "published" it could be defamatory.

Similar considerations apply to "hypothetical" statements that are clearly understood to actually refer to a real person.

Judges tend to be very good at parsing these nuances of language, rather than just taking them at purely face value.

Are there stricter rules or more serious consequences if an attorney is in the habit of asking witnesses questions that are structured this way?

Statements made in court are absolutely privileged and cannot give rise to defamation liability. The question would be objectionable, however, and might be disallowed by a judge as improper questions.

Even outside of court, attorneys' statements related to litigation have strong protections from defamation under what is known as a litigation privilege. In those cases, the question is often whether the statement is connected to pending litigation or litigation which will be imminently commenced, as opposed to not being connected to any real lawsuit.

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