- Cyberbullying is extremely common and usually suffered silently. In one survey, 70% of 13- to 15-year-olds in Canada reported being bullied online, and 44% reported being a bully. Multiple surveys found that a majority of those bullied never told anyone about it.
- Teachers can be victims of cyberbullying.
- Teen girls are more prolific bloggers than boys. According to a study of adolescents online, 29% of girls blog, while 14% of boys do.
Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category
The town council of Aurora, Ontario has voted to make a formal apology to bloggers who were on the receiving side of a meritless defamation lawsuit brought by then-mayor Phyllis Morris in her official capacity.
The council’s motion, which passed 6-2, provided:
THAT the Mayor on behalf of Council, be authorized to issue a formal apology to those named in the action and to the community at large stating our commitment to freedom of speech and our regret that the Town of Aurora was ever associated with a SLAPP action … (Town Council Minutes [pdf])
Kudos to the members of the town council who voted in favor of the apology to bloggers Bill Hogg, Richard Johnson, and Elizabeth Bishhenden.
Councillor Michael Thompson, who, made the motion, explained his concept of responsibility: “There will be some who will say we are not the ones who should apologise because we did not create it, but this Council is now the ones who are responsible and accountable to this Town. Whether we create or inherit an issue, it is our role to act upon, if needed. In this case, I believe in the simple principle when you are wrong, do the right thing, admit it, and make amends where possible.”
One of the no votes was one of the people who had reason to take direct responsibility. Councillor John Gallo was one of the original votes on September 14, 2010 to hire outside council to pursue the bloggers. And Gallo was the lone vote against the council’s action to stop funding the legal campaign after the rest of the town council came to their senses.
- The Auroran, Brock Weir: Council issues apology to sued bloggers
- Yorkregion.com, Chris Simon: Aurora to apologize for lawsuit
Prior coverage on Blog Law Blog:
- January 13th, 2011: Town in Ontario Stops Footing Legal Bills for Blog Lawsuit
- October 26th, 2011: It’s Over in Aurora: Ex-Mayor in Ontario Gives Up on Lawsuit Against Blog
- October 29th, 2012: Former Mayor Must Pay $21,275 in Bloggers’ Legal Bills
Thanks to vindicated blogger/defendant Richard Johnson for sending in the tip on this.
Ex-Aurora Mayor Phyllis Morris. (Image: Phyllis Morris Campaign, used without permission.)
Back in January, I blogged about the taxpayer-funded litigation campaign waged by the mayor of Aurora, Ontario. She got the town council to pony up funds to go after the Aurora Citizen blog and anonymous critics voicing opposition to Morris via the blog’s comments. As it turns out, the lawsuit didn’t help Morris’s political fortunes. Morris suffered a landslide loss in her bid for re-election. And then, the town council voted to de-fund her lawsuit – something that probably never should have been funded on the taxpayer dime in the first place. This summer, a judge rebuffed Morris’s attempt to get a court order to unmask the three anonymous contributors who were, apparently, the authors of the content Morris found most objectionable.
After that string of setbacks, Morris has now voluntarily discontinued her suit – meaning that she’s given up entirely on the litigation.
Thanks to Blog Law Blog reader Chris for sending me a note about this one.
The discontinuance is functionally a vindication for the defendants, who are blog proprietor-moderators William Hogg and Elizabeth Bishenden, contributor Richard Johnson, three anonymous commenters, and host WordPress.com.
It’s hard to tell what all exactly the material was that Morris contended was defamatory. Her suit claimed that material on the Aurora Citizen subject her to “ridicule, hatred and contempt.” But the what and why is not clear. A post from September 16, 2010 reprints a letter received from the town attorney demanding the removal of certain comments from the Aurora Citizen – a request the blog complied with, so we can’t see exactly what those comments were, and they seem to be about a different town official. Another post suggests that some material posted over the course of August 24, 2010 through October 2, 2010 was the basis of a defamation allegation at some point. So I’m guessing this and this might have annoyed her. But I can’t tell with any particularity what the offending language was.
Here’s what the Aurora Citizen had to say:
It was manifestly unfair that the defendants were put to the time and expense of legal fees at the hands of Ms. Morris, most especially in light of the fact that Ms. Morris used tax dollars to pursue them in what appeared to be a politically motivated attack intended to silence their efforts to hold her government accountable.
It is equally telling that Ms. Morris discontinued the litigation when she was called upon to fund it out of her own pocket rather than use taxpayer funds as initially intended. She was fully prepared to use town resources to support her private lawsuit, at the towns’ sole risk and expense to her sole potential gain, despite the fact that the Town’s Code of Conduct states clearly that “public office is not to be used for personal gain”.
While the defendants, Hogg and Johnson defended their principles with their own funds — Phyllis Morris did not.
Hopefully, there has been a lesson learned from this experience. Freedom of expression is a fundamental democratic right of all Canadians — but it is a right that will be attacked, and will need protection.
- The National Post: Former Aurora mayor drops blogger lawsuit
Well, this is sad. French-Canadian soft-rock diva Celine Dion has silenced a tongue-in-cheek blog keeping track of absurd pictures taken of her.
All it took was a cease-and-desist letter.
The Tumblr-hosted blog, Ridiculous Pictures of Céline Dion, is now down, with only this message remaining:
céline dion found our blog, and she didn’t like it. we just got a letter from céline’s lawyers that the blog has to be shut down.
though this blog is well within the realm of ‘fair use’, i don’t have the money or time to get a lawyer to respond. the dream is over.
thanks for following and being a céline superfan
i’ll always remember u
i’ll never let go
The blogger’s decision is completely rational, of course. But that just makes it worse. It’s a sadly accurate commentary about the lack of justice that results when the well-lawyered find themselves feeling uncomfortable with constitutional rights of the unlawyered masses.
But to the extent you’re reading that, also consider reading what the FTC is writing:
The Federal Trade Commission has brought a law enforcement action against an online operation that allegedly raked in more than $450 million from consumers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand by luring them into “free” or “risk-free” offers, and then charging them for products and services they did not want or agree to purchase. As part of its ongoing efforts to stamp out online fraud, the FTC seeks to stop the operation’s illegal practices and make the defendants repay injured consumers.
The Toronto Star reports that Willms said in a statement, “We believe our business practices are compliant with the law and are working to resolve this disagreement with the appropriate government agencies.” Big surprise there.
The Star also notes that Jesse Willms says on his blog, “I consider myself to be a hard worker, I understand there are no shortcuts in life, and I believe that fundamentally every successful business must focus on product value and customer satisfaction.”
Another whopping surprise.
The lawsuit looks to be making use of the recently enacted Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act [pdf], which requires online retailers to “clearly and conspicuously” disclose all material terms in a proposed transaction before obtaining the consumer’s billing information. The act also requires the retailer to give consumers an easy way to put a stop recurring charges on a debit or credit card.
I’ve been thinking back over the last year, Blog Law Blog’s first year, and trying to figure out what broad lessons there are to be learned about blog law. The most striking thing to me, I think, is the tremendous number of altercations we’ve seen between local officials and bloggers.
In both Canada and the United States, it seems like local government officials are highly intolerant of harsh criticism. They try to unmask anonymous bloggers and commenters. They use town counsel money and subpoenas to get at their tormentors.
Where do local officials get off thinking they should be able to silence online critics? What’s a bit puzzling is that the behavior exhibited by local officials toward the online press is something you would never see either (1) by federal or higher-level state politicians and officials, or (2) by local officials against the traditional media. Well, you might see it very rarely. But not with the frequency and abandon with which town politicos go after laptop-wielding gadflies.
So what accounts for the difference?
I think a big part of it is that local officials aren’t used to the heat. National politicians have always put up with vitriol. For them, the internet has perhaps added to the number of hecklers, but the phenomenon is not utterly new for elite officials.
But on the local level, blogs have propelled brickbats into a void. It’s all new for local officials. And the do not like it.
Much of the blog activity that leads to lawsuits is mean-spirited and nothing to cheer about. Nonetheless, you can’t deny that this is participatory democracy. I can’t help but think that when blogging comes to town hall, it is perhaps the greatest fulfillment of the vision the forefathers had for the First Amendment. This is the core within the core of free speech. I think Jefferson, Madison, and the rest would say this is exactly what democracy and freedom of press are all about.
That said, I get that it hurts. A big part of what drives local officials to get lawyered up is the anonymity blogs allow. People are mean anonymously in a way the would never be with their name attached. There’s no doubt about that.
Another part of the story is that the criticism is in print. No doubt local officials have always been subject to mean-spirited gossip. But gossip uttered on the air is less hurtful than font-rendered invective. It goes back to the traditional legal difference between slander and libel – that is, oral vs. written defamation. The common law’s distinction no doubt grows from an important difference in how we perceive the harmfulness of ephemeral speech versus inky text.
Here are posts from BLB where local officials use the law to attack blogs in 2010:
- Ontario: Mayor of Aurora sues blog and gets town council to foot the legal bills (for a while)
- Ontario: Mayor of Meaford tries to unmask a critical blogger
- Alberta: Mayor of Edmonton sues over blog posts and tries to keep lawsuit secret
- Ontario: Toronto police officer (“Officer Bubbles”) goes after anonymous commenters
- Illinois: Mayor of Mokena says bloggers are terrorists who are creating history’s greatest First Amendment crisis
- North Carolina: Remarks about a former county commissioner spur legal action to reveal anonymous blog commenter IDs
- Massachusetts: Town of Southborough mulls legal action against comments related to hiring of new police chief
Here’s the latest one from this fall: Phyllis Morris, when she was mayor of Aurora, Ontario and running for re-election, got the town council to agree to foot the legal bills for going after the Aurora Citizen blog and anonymous critics voicing their opinions on the site. With taxpayers paying, Morris then sued a bunch of people, including people behind the blog, anonymous defendants, and WordPress.
After the town had incurred $43,000 in legal fees, the council voted (just before Christmas) to cut off funding.
Why the change of heart? Well, apparently people in the town started to squawk. (Which is why politicians like to keep these legal campaigns secret when then can. E.g., Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel.) In other words, politicians like to avoid criticism. If silencing critics with lawsuits doesn’t work, then governing in accordance with the will of the electorate is the plan B.
My favorite bit is Councillor John Gallo, who was quoted in the YorkRegion as saying, “we never agreed to sue any private residents; that was never on the table when I agreed to the motion.”
The September 14, 2010 resolution directed the town solicitor to hire outside counsel and “take any and all actions to bring resolution to this matter[.]”
If Gallo didn’t think that would include a lawsuit, then he’s a real noodlehead.
By the way, Gallo was the lone vote on the council for continuing to use town money to fund the legal war against the blog. He didn’t think it would be right to change things now. Well, clearly, he’s a man of integrity.
- Sean Pearce in the YorkRegion (newspaper site): Aurora votes tonight on blog lawsuit
- Sean Pearce in the YorkRegion (newspaper site): Aurora stops support of ex-mayor’s lawsuit, town has been billed $43,000 in legal costs
- Aurora Citizen blog: Council Ends Support of Morris Lawsuit « Aurora Citizen
The Sun Times of Owen Sound, Ontario reports that the town of Meaford, Ontario has obtained the identity of a person behind www.francisformayor.blogspot.com, an anonymously authored blog that was critical of the incumbent mayor during a recent election.
The mayor, Francis Richardson, managed to get re-elected despite the blog supposedly having interfered with the election.
The town of about 11,000 people was able to get the identity from IP addresses turned over by Google.
The town is still pressing Google for more information so it can get the identity of anonymous commenters.
Richardson wants to publicly reveal the blogger’s identity “for the main reason of having that kind of thing stopped.”
Richardson claims it wasn’t attacks on him that pushed the city to use legal process to find the blogger’s identity. It was, he says, the material critical of his staff.
“It was the attack on the staff that council responded to. It requires us to get very, very, very serious to get people to realize they can’t take those kinds of shots at our staff without the corporation doing something about it,” Richardson told the Sun Times.
The article doesn’t say what the blogger or commenters said that is allegedly civilly actionable. Supposedly a defamation lawsuit is in the offing.
Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel not only wanted to unlock the secret of his critic’s identity with a lawsuit, Mandel wanted to keep his own lawsuit a secret. But a court in Alberta has now unsealed the mayor’s complaint for defamation, reports the CBC broadcast network.
Mandel’s lawyer argued that the lawsuit should proceed in secret until an investigation was completed. But Justice Donna Read of Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench ordered the unsealing after hearing arguments from the CBC and the Edmonton Journal newspaper.
“The courts are open,” Read said, according the CBC. “Freedom of expression exists. There is no good reason for that statement of claim to be sealed.”
Politicians love to have it both ways: silence their anonymous critics, but remain anonymous as they do it. Put another way, secrecy is okay for the plaintiff politician, but not for the defendant blogger. Recall the case of Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett vs. his Twitter tormentors.
Mike Masnick at TechDirt ask whether linking to defamatory content can be and should be considered defamatory itself. Apparently there is a whole a batch of litigation brewing in Canada.
Forbes blogger Kashmir Hill discusses model Liskula Cohen, business student Carla Franklin, and Tornoto constable Adam Josephs – all recipients of online abuse – in a post about unmasking anonymous bloggers and commenters: Civilizing the Internet, One Lawsuit at a Time (For Now).
People can be meaner online — it’s easier to be harsh in a digital communication when you don’t have look into the faces of those you’re lashing out at. … When flame throwers are cloaked in anonymity, the “harsh” dial is often turned up a few notches.
An article in the Montreal Gazette written by reporter Mike Barber discusses the broader implications of a lawsuit brought by a Toronto constable against his online detractors: Toronto cop’s lawsuit shows bubble may be bursting for anonymous online comments.
The constable, Adam Josephs, gained fame as “Officer Bubbles” when a viral video showed him threatening to arrest a protester for blowing bubbles in close proximity to police during the G20 summit in June 2010.
The lawsuit asks for $1.2 million in damages and seeks the identity of 25 anonymous YouTube users.
Josephs’ lawyer, James Zibarras, decries his client suffering a “massive backlash that we say is disproportionate and incommensurate to what happened, and started getting to the point where it included threats.”
“There has to be a mechanism to bring some level of control to the situation,” Zibarras said according to the Montreal Gazette story.
Those comments make it seem like the gravamen of Jospehs’ complaint is more cyberbullying than defamation.
And that, in turn, makes the entire affair somewhat ironic.
It was Josephs’ demeanor, itself seen as bullying, which fired up his anonymous online tormentors. One imagines, of course, that the lawsuit will work in turn to extend the torrent of invective aimed at Josephs.
The internet may be new, but meanness, umbrage, and cyclical reprisal are as ancient as anything.
Teresa Scassa of the law school at the University of Ottawa has published Journalistic Purposes and Private Sector Data Protection Legislation: Blogs, Tweets and Information Maps in the Queen’s Law Journal.
This paper explores how changes in the ways in which information is consumed and disseminated by myriad individuals in myriad forms may impact data protection law in Canada. The author uses examples of blogs, Twitter and information maps to illustrate the problems that will inevitably arise when trying to discern which individuals and which information will properly fit into the journalistic purposes exceptions in Canadian data protection statutes. She suggests that exceptions for the collection, use or disclosure of personal information for journalistic purposes raise vital questions about the purpose and scope of these exceptions. Recent case law illustrates the difficulties faced by decision-makers in defining the scope of these exceptions, particularly given the need to balance the public right to be informed with individual privacy rights. The author considers the journalistic purposes exceptions in light of the role of journalists by analyzing how reporters’ privilege, defamation law (“responsible journalism”) and ethical codes of conduct might affect and inform current Canadian case law. She then reviews how journalistic purpose exceptions are configured and applied in Australia and the United Kingdom. In the conclusion, the author considers the direction that data protection law in Canada should take. She suggests that a reasonableness test, which attempts to balance the various conflicting interests, should govern decisions on whether information is being provided for a journalistic purpose or for some “other” purpose.
The cite is 35 Queen’s L.J. 733. I was not able to find a copy of the article available freely online.