Internet trolls – be warned. Harassing others with fake and malicious online attacks can be a prohibitively expensive hobby, thanks to a Kitchener judge’s ruling.
Last week, Superior Court Judge Donald Gordon ordered a Brampton woman to pay a Kitchener woman $125,000 in damages for making defamatory statements about her on websites and newspapers. social media.
Although this was a big change, it meant justice for the woman who was wronged and well-deserved punishment for her tormentor. Beyond that, it provided a needed and overdue pushback against the hateful vitriol spewed online these days.
The offense in question was flagrant. For more than two years, a woman identified by the court as Cassidy LeBlanc has been spreading damaging lies about the Kitchener woman on 10 “shameful” US-based websites, as well as on YouTube.
After discovering the posts in 2019, the Kitchener wife contacted LeBlanc on Instagram and asked him to remove them. Understandably, the Kitchener wife was hurt by the attacks, but also feared they would harm her position in the workplace.
Not only did LeBlanc refuse to cease and desist, but Judge Gordon said “the attacks escalated.” And that remained the situation even after Kitchener’s wife launched her libel suit. It turned out to be a particularly serious mistake on LeBlanc’s part. In assessing damages, Judge Gordon considered LeBlanc’s intransigence as well as the seriousness of his offense against Kitchener’s wife.
After the ruling, Mark Radulescu, the Kitchener woman’s lawyer, said it may be the first time in Ontario that someone has been awarded damages for being defamed on disgraceful websites. . If so, that makes the decision even more worthy of public applause.
The Internet has revolutionized communications, often in a positive way by allowing ordinary people to connect almost instantly with more people around the world than ever before. But it has a dark side that can be seen in the constant torrent of vicious, often unfounded personal attacks that make parts of it look like a sewer of abuse. No wonder so many are demanding tighter controls on what appears online. And it’s no wonder the Canadian government is considering new legislation to put in place safeguards around the Internet.
What transpired in the Kitchener courtroom last week shows that our existing laws already provide people with significant recourse if they believe they have been unfairly slandered online. The public should realize this. This goes double for all the people – often called trolls – who spend so much of their time harnessing the wonders of new technology to insult, degrade and bully others. They need to know that they are subject to our defamation laws and what those laws say.
Under these laws, a person’s reputation has real value. If someone makes false and demeaning statements that damage someone’s reputation, they can be held very expensively liable. Making such statements electronically is no less of an offense than if made on a printed page. As this case also demonstrates, people should realize that they cannot rely on the shield of anonymity. Despite LeBlanc’s attempts to remain anonymous, Judge Gordon was confident that she had been accurately identified as the person responsible for the Kitchener wife’s defamation.
Whatever your decision, don’t be afraid that it threatens freedom of expression. This is not the case. People remain free in this country to express constructive ideas, to criticize others, and to do so in strong language. As a newspaper, The Record upholds this right for both professional journalists and members of the public who submit letters and guest columns. But people aren’t free to lie about others and damage their reputations, and it should never be necessary for them to have a say.
Justice Gordon’s decision holds internet commentary to the same standards that have traditionally applied to print and broadcast media. You are responsible for what you say behind your keyboard.
Going forward, authorities should make sure LeBlanc obeys the court and removes harmful posts forever — something that didn’t happen on Friday.
Equally important, this case should ring alarm bells for anyone who assumes that free speech means they can say anything about anyone online, no matter how toxic or despicable. This is not the case. They can not. And, if they do, they must be prepared to pay for the harm they cause.
What Judge Gordon said about LeBlanc’s conduct applies to anyone tempted to imitate him: “It has to stop.”