What the ‘Warman vs. FD/internet privacy’ case is all about

When the ruling in this case was released in March of 2009, there was much commentary by smart and learned people of what this case is all about and what its implications are on our society.

Michael Geist is a law professor at University of Ottawa, where he holds the Canada Research Chair in e-Commerce and Internet law.  He is also the founder of Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), an intervenor in the appeal hearing.  This is what he had to say:

Protection for anonymous postings is certainly not an absolute, but a high threshold that requires prima facie evidence supporting the plaintiff’s claim is critical to ensuring that a proper balance is struck between the rights of a plaintiff (whether in a defamation or copyright case) and the privacy and free speech rights of the poster.

Read the full post here.

Don Butler has a piece on the appeal:

Their decision could chill whistleblowers and others who use pseudonyms to post controversial comments, say civil libertarians.And, they maintain, if the judges support unmasking anonymous posters, that could erode their privacy by allowing others to piece together vast amounts of personal information.

Read the rest here.

So, yes – the implications of this ruling are ‘big’.

Please, keep in mind that I have no legal training whatsoever – so I am only commenting on what I saw and heard, as I saw and heard it.  But, having watched the appeal hearing, this is what I understood to be the issues this case revolves about:

  • Mr. Warman saw a number of posts on FreeDominion, a conservative discussion forum, which posted either comments that Mr. Warman considered defamatory, or which linked to a completely different website, where some other people made statements Mr. Warman considered defamatory
  • Mr. Warman decided to sue the anonymous posters – and Mark and Connie Fournier, the administrators of FreeDominion
  • The Honourable Mr. Justice Stanley Kershman decided in favour of Mr. Warman and ordered the Fourniers to release the information sought
  • The Fourniers have appealed – hence, this hearing.

It is important to understand Justice Kershman’s ruling, so we can understand the grounds of the appeal.  From the ruling (the links are mine):

[13] The Plaintiff relies on the case of Lillie v. Bisson, [1999) OJ. No. 3677 (CA.), a case
in which the Ontario Court of Appeal says that courts should encourage a liberal interpretation of
Rule 76 in order to reduce the cost of litigating modest sums.

[15] Tue Defendant relies on Irwin Toy for the proposition that disclosure should not be
automatic upon the issuance of a Statement of Claim:

If such were to be the case, the fact of the anonymity of the internet could be
shattered for the price of the issuance of spurious Statement of Claim and the
benefits obtained by the anonymity lost in inappropriate circumstances.

(16) The Defendants argue that the Plaintiff must establish a prima facie case by way of
affidavit evidence before disclosure is ordered.

[33] In the case before the court, we are dealing with an anti-hate speech advocate and
Defendants whose website is so controversial that it is blocked to employees of the Ontario
Public Service.

The Honourable Mr. Justice Stanley Kershman ruled that the Fourniers (of the ‘controversial website’) must ‘automatically’ hand over all information which could lead to the identification of the ‘John Does’ to the ( ‘anti-hate-speech advocate’):  hence, the appeal!

One Response to “What the ‘Warman vs. FD/internet privacy’ case is all about”

  1. Steynian 408nd « Free Canuckistan! Says:

    […] WARMANISM– The ‘York University’ case; The ‘Norwich precedent’; What the ‘Warman vs. FD/internet privacy’ case is all about …. […]

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