Ontario Court Tackles the Legalities of Anonymous Postings

In a decision with broader implications for online privacy, a judge has ruled not to force the identification of anonymous bloggers who wrote critical web posts about former Aurora mayor Phyllis Morris.

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In a decision with broader implications for online privacy, a judge has ruled not to force the identification of anonymous bloggers who wrote critical web posts about former Aurora mayor Phyllis Morris.

The Ontario Superior Court ruling, which Ms. Morris intends to appeal, is a major blow to her $6-million defamation action, which targets three individuals who authored anonymous posts on the Aurora Citizen website, along with the site’s moderators.

In her decision, Judge Carole Brown weighed Ms. Morris’s allegations against the fundamental right to freedom of speech and found the former mayor’s case wanting.

“The public interest favouring disclosure [of the bloggers’ names] clearly does not outweigh the legitimate interests in freedom of expression and the right to privacy of the persons sought to be identified,” Judge Brown wrote, noting the three anonymous defendants, who chose to make comments on the site using pseudonyms, had “a reasonable expectation of anonymity.”

In addition, the judge noted, Ms. Morris failed to set forth the specific words alleged to be defamatory, including only snippets and titles in her statement of claim.

“It is not the role of the court to parse the impugned articles and blogs before it to attempts to determine, by divination or divine inspiration, which statements it should assess in determining whether a prima facie case has been established,” Judge Brown wrote in her decision.

Ms. Morris says she has reviewed the written decision with her legal team and will launch an appeal, effectively placing the case on hold in the interim. “While we respect the decision of the court, we also respectfully disagree with the finding that we failed to make out a prima facie case of defamation,” Ms. Morris said, noting the anonymous comments “went far beyond acceptable political commentary.”

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