Lawyers for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association will be in an Ontario courtroom today opposing a politician’s attempt to obtain the identities of anonymous bloggers for use in a $6-million libel lawsuit.
The action in the province’s Superior Court pits ousted Aurora, Ont., mayor Phyllis Morris against a former councillor, a pair of local residents, defence lawyer Jordan Goldblatt of Toronto’s Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP, and auroracitizen.ca web site host Automattic Inc. Morris wants them to offer up identity information on three unnamed defendants in order to move ahead with her defamation claim.
The former mayor alleges that critical blog posts accusing her of corruption and mismanagement hurt her reputation and prompted physical threats, forcing her to seek police involvement.
The CCLA was granted intervener status in the motion on Dec. 31, after Superior Court Justice Kevin Whitaker ruled the matter addresses significant civil liberties and Charter issues. In a court-filed factum, the association says the case specifically raises questions about privacy and anonymity online, the Charter right of freedom of expression, and disclosure requirements.
It further argues that Morris’ claim lacks crucial information, and that leeway must be given for political speech online.
“A prima facie case of defamation against an anonymous party cannot be established where, as in this case, the precise words complained of have not been set out in the claim,” states the factum.
“While the anonymity of Internet users should not be protected absolutely, the anonymity of Internet users engaged in commenting on and criticizing an elected public official in the performance of his or her duties should be afforded significant protection. Perceived threats to the safety of a plaintiff should not be considered under the test for production of identity information in a tort action for defamation.”
Morris initiated the lawsuit before being ousted in last October’s municipal vote, and had earlier received council’s approval for town funding of it. A newly elect council re-opened that motion late last year and voted it down.