The cost award was higher than the damages, in a recent defamation case that had become a legal odyssey.
An online forum has shut down its website, after an Ottawa lawyer got a court order banning the forum from publishing defamatory comments about him. The website, freedominion.ca, has turned to social media “crowdfunding,” to raise money for an appeal.
The website now includes the text: “Anonymous Troll Could Send Us to Jail!” and says the site has been “censored.”
Hate speech and and freedom of speech laws were the genesis of Warman v. Fournier, 2014 ONSC 412 (CanLII), which began six years ago.
In January, lawyer Richard Warman won a lawsuit against the webmasters and two commenters at freedominion.ca, over disparaging comments made against him. Warman is known for filing complaints based on the now-repealed s. 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Freedominion.ca has been critical of Warman’s efforts.
A jury found 41 statements on the web site to be libellous and ordered the defendants to pay $42,000 in damages. Superior Court Justice Robert Smith also ordered them to pay $85,000 in costs. Smith banned the webmasters from publishing any of the 41 defamatory statements.
“The continued publication of libellous material would cause irreparable harm to the plaintiff’s reputation and prohibited material has already been found to constitute libel,” Smith wrote, Jan. 23, adding: “I find that the balance of convenience favours the granting of an injunction because the terms of the proposed injunction would not prevent any of the defendants from engaging in political comment that was not defamatory, whereas the harm to Mr. Warman’s reputation would be substantial.”
The jury found the defendants made the comments maliciously and refused to apologize.
Warman told the Law Times that the “real message” of the case is a call for serious consideration towards resolving disputes more easily rather than launching legal warfare.
Defence counsel Barbara Kulaszka suggested that defamation laws be reviewed, in light of the unique challenges the internet poses. “There needs to be a consultation with the stakeholders, such as bloggers, forum operators, ISPs, and so on, to truly understand the problems arising in a digital environment and so the remedies,” she told Law Times.
Unless they’re absolutely certain they can prove their statements are true, defendants who fight to the bitter end will usually end up paying more, according to Toronto Internet and defamation lawyer Gil Zvulony.
Related Information: Internet libel and defamation
Summary judgment, permanent injunction: Multiple defendants found to have used the internet to defame a Canadian writer:
Henderson v. Pearlman, 2009 CanLII 43641 (ON SC)
Dear John Doe: You Have Defamed
Brian Burke Defamation Action Against Anonymous Users
Facebook and the Law