Today, I spent observing more ‘courtly manners’.
In the court-room, that is.
With Madam Justice Blishen presiding over the next installment in the ‘Warman v Free Dominion’ saga.
- FreeDominion is the oldest, longest-running online message board in Canada which deals with political matters.
- Richard Warman is a former Canadian Human Rights Commission lawyer and the most frequent user of Canada’s Human Right’s Legislation’s controversial ‘Section 13’, often described as ‘the censorship clause’. Richard Warman has also personally pursued complaints under ‘Section 13’ where he was not the ‘injured party’ – on the grounds that there could, one day, be an injured party – and collected a tens of thousands of tax-exempt dollars in ‘damages’ as a result.
- Richard Warman has also initiated tens, perhaps hundreds, of civil lawsuits against people whom he perceives as having slandered or defamed him
- Many people on the internet call Mr. Warman all kinds of things….some of them not nice things.
- Several people have made posts on FreeDominion which Mr. Warman believes defame him – and he has attempted to sue them, as well as the people who run the FreeDominion site, Mark and Connie Fournier.
- As they have posted under pseudonyms, Mr. Warman has not been successful in discovering the identity of all the people who posted the comments he believes to be defamatory. He has therefore demanded that the Fourniers reveal to him the identities /IP addresses of these anonymous people, so he can sue them
- Earlier this year, in an appeal, FreeDominion successfully argued that they should not be expected to just hand over this information when asked: a ‘prima facie’ case has got to be made that there are indeed grounds for a lawsuit for defamation there, first! There were two ‘other parties’ permitted to speak to the appeals court about this: the Civil Liberties people and Michael Geist’s ‘Internet Freedom’ people.
- THIS HEARING was to determine whether or not the conditions for the disclosure of identities of anonymous bloggers (including a ‘prima facie case’ for a defamation lawsuit in these posts) have indeed been met.
And what a hearing it was!
Since this hearing was to determine whether there was there was sufficient reason for the disclosure of the identities of anonymous bloggers, perhaps it is best to re-state the conditions, as per the above-mentioned appeal. From Defamation Law Blog:
After surveying previous decisions, Justice Wilton-Siegel set out four considerations, aimed at preventing abuse of the Rules and respecting the privacy of internet users, that should have been considered by the motions judge in deciding whether to order disclosure under the Rules:
- whether the unknown alleged wrongdoer could have a reasonable expectation of anonymity in the particular circumstances;
- whether the Respondent has established a prima facie case against the unknown alleged wrongdoer and is acting in good faith;
- whether the Respondent has taken reasonable steps to identify the anonymous party and has been unable to do so; and
- whether the public interests favouring disclosure outweigh the legitimate interests of freedom of expression and right to privacy of the persons sought to be identified if the disclosure is ordered.
[Warman, at para. 34]
To reduce the anticipation a little, let me first state that the third point was not much discussed: everyone agreed that Mr. Warman had indeed done a lot to ferret out the identities of the anonymous bloggers. So, the arguments revolved around the other 3 points:expectation of anonymity by the posters, whether there is enough material there to proceed with a defamation suit (as in, not just a nuisance lawsuit) and last but not least, balancing of ‘legitimate interests’.
The morning arguments opened a little late: there was another motion scheduled ahead of this hearing – one involving an almost 30-year lawsuit over some inheritance, which was in the 2nd and 3rd generation of litigants. I suppose this set the tone a little…
This earlier motion hearing meant that Madam Justice Blishen did not begin to hear this case until two minutes to noon. To my untrained, layman’s eyes, it looked like this was very good news for Warman and his legal team (headed up by the eloquent and expressive Mr. James Katz). Mr. Warman kept leaving the court-room and coming back with more and more papers, which he quietly discussed with his lawyers. Mr. Katz’s student also kept running into the room, bringing in reams of paper and passing them to her boss.
I wondered what this was all about… and I suspect the reason might have been the second lawyer, sitting on the Free Dominion side of the lawyer’s table. The ever-loyal and very intelligent Barbara Kulaszka was, again, representing Connie Wilkins-Fournier and Mark Fournier of Free Dominion. The other lawyer was representing several of the other co-defendants in the lawsuit – and was none other than the formidable ans wholly unexpected Mr. Doug Christie!
No wonder there was some serious scrambling from the Katz team!
As the hearing opened, Mr. Katz argued that as this is a hearing to determine if the conditions for revealing the identities of the anonymous posters has been met and not the defamation hearing itself, it only concerns the Fourniers and not the other co-defendants in the defamation suit. Therefore, Mr. Katz suggested, Mr. Christie had no standing there and should not be permitted to address the court.
In my completely legally untrained mind, it looked like ‘they’ really really really really did not want to give Mr. Christie a chance to speak at all – more than just mere procedural jostling for position or some type of lawyer-bickering. It almost smelled like ‘they’ were afraid of M. Christie. And here, I thought he was best known for making good cookies…
All right – I am getting silly. It has been a very long and exhausting day for me – if I continue now, the likelihood that I will craft my report to accommodate as many puns as possible will increase with every new line.
So, please, forgive me: I will sign off for now and continue my tale tomorrow.