Defamation Law is strangling the Internet
As long time bloggers and forum hosts (13 years so far), we recently finished a long battle against Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) that resulted in the Canadian Parliament repealing the section.
During that time we have also been fighting several defamation and copyright lawsuits that were launched against us by supporters of Section 13. (see Footnote) [i]
Yesterday we received news that is devastating, not only to us, but to anyone who loves freedom of speech on the internet and that includes forum hosts, bloggers and media outlets that allow listeners, readers or viewers to make uncensored comments on their web site.
The two of us and two Free Dominion posters, Peter O’Donnell and Faramir, have been ordered to pay $127,000 to litigant Richard Warman. This is bad enough, but the judge also gave Warman an injunction that states that we are prohibited from publishing anything about the plaintiff that has been found to be defamatory. (In this context, “publishing” includes anything posted on the Free Dominion web site, with or without our knowledge or consent.)
This injunction lasts for life, and can result in prison time for contempt of court if the terms are violated!
We had no choice but to close the forum!
Given the propensity of our political opponents to use agent provocateurs to post inflammatory material on the internet, including on our web site, we knew that given enough time, an anonymous agent would post material on our site that would violate the injunction, so we had to close the forum to protect ourselves.
Paul Fromm, Witness for the Fourniers (right), Ottawa, September, 2013
Defamation law is becoming every bit as dangerous for Canadian internet users as Section 13 was!
Defamation law says that a statement is defamatory if it “tends to lower the esteem of the subject in the minds of the ordinary members of the public“.
As you can see, that could apply to any remark viewed by the subject as negative.
Once an action is filed, you have to incur the legal costs of making a defence or accept whatever verdict and penalty the court may decide to impose.
If you are a forum or blog owner and the comment was made by an anonymous poster, you have no defence of “fair comment” because you are not allowed to give “opinion” evidence of the state of mind of the poster or to state what facts the poster relied on. You are effectively taken to task for not censoring the commentary of a third person and not allowed to defend yourself.
You are 100% responsible.
If an anonymous poster makes comment on your blog and someone sues you for it, you can lose everything you have…even if you remove the allegedly offending words or post from your site.
What can we do?
We must appeal this decision because an injunction that could impose jail time for the actions of someone else is grossly unfair and, undoubtedly unconstitutional. We cannot let this precedent stand.
Operating a blog or forum and allowing readers to post their opinions should not lead to financial ruin or put a person’s entire future at risk. As the Ontario Civil Liberties Association recently stated, the Tort of Defamation needs to be abolished. We will fight on both of these fronts.
We must appeal this decision, and we have two other hearings coming up before the end of March. We desperately need help with our legal expenses so we can keep up our fight for freedom of speech on the internet!
Any contribution would be greatly appreciated and we promise to put it to good use!
If you prefer to donate by mail, please send your cheque here:
2000 Unity Rd.,
Elginburg, ON K0H 1M0
Connie and Mark Fournier