Canadian Firefighters Pursue Anonymous Website Commentators

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Waterloo Chronicle

HALIFAX, N.S. - Two Halifax firefighters can now pursue libel suits after their lawyer received the names of anonymous commentators who criticized them on the website of a weekly newspaper.

Michelle Awad, the attorney for Halifax fire chief Bill Mosher and deputy chief Stephen Thurber, said Monday she has the information she needs to find and sue the commentators from the Coast newspaper's website.

"We have information that identifies individuals. So it's no longer an anonymous person or an email address that doesn't necessarily specify the person's name," she said.

Awad applied for the identities of the online commentators in a series of court appearances.

The first step was on April 14, when Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Heather Robertson ordered Coast Publishing Ltd. to provide identifying information about the commentators, who used online names like "scandalous 2010" or "LessTalkMore Action."

Robertson said during the hearing that the court doesn't "condone the conduct of anonymous Internet users who make defamatory comments."

Her order made it clear that online critics can't keep their identities secret.

The Coast complied, providing email addresses and Internet protocol addresses - identifying numbers for the Internet connections to a computer.

Awad then obtained a second court order that required Internet service providers BellAliant and Eastlink to provide full addresses and names based on the computer addresses.

The firefighters are still awaiting identifying information from Eastlink for a person who used a Gmail account provided by Google. Awad said she expects that by the end of the week.

She said her clients have a year to decide whether they'll launch a libel lawsuit.

In the meantime, she said she's pleased the courts responded quickly and that the message is being sent that anonymity isn't guaranteed.

"I think our court was very responsive and has continued to be so as the further steps of this matter have been required," she said.

"People can't defame others on the Internet or otherwise with impunity. They need to understand they will be found out."

However, she said having to go through the various steps was expensive and time consuming for her clients.

The case has helped fuel a debate on whether news sites should permit anonymous, unmonitored comments to be posted on discussion forums they host.

The comments that upset the two firefighters appeared in a forum about alleged racism in the department.

Kyle Shaw, the co-founder of the Coast, has said that he won't change a policy that allows people to remain anonymous while posting their views on the website.

He said the policy allows other commentators to notify website editors if inappropriate comments are made, and that editors can then decide whether to remove the comment.

He said it creates a free-wheeling and wide-ranging debate that his newspaper fears would be stifled by constant supervision.

Copyright 2010 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.
All Rights Reserved
May 3, 2010

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just like a hazmat incident... for every action, there is a reaction...
well i guess that blows free speech and freedom of the press out of the water people have to understand this is a cruel world we live in and people are going to say things that hurt your feelings but man up and take it, it is only trash talk if i would sue everyone that said something bad about me i;d be richer than my wildest dreams
Keep in mind that this story is from Canada. Who knows what crazy laws those Canadians have about freedom of speech.
There is a difference between saying something that another person doesn't like, and one that purposely sets out to hurt someones reputation and or livelihood.

That being said, I haven't read any of the comments so I can't say which way this might be. But, in todays www.information super highway, it is extremely hard for a person to actually hide their identity.

I think what this might prove is that we need to be aware that we can be found out if someone wants to, and to not post something we wouldn't say to someone to their face.
Slander and libel are not covered by either freedom of speech or freedom of the press.

Freedom of speech doesn't give one the right to slander or libel someone else, regardless of whether or not you post using your real identity.
It's a socialist's scheme to take away our freedom of speech, our guns and arrrrrgggggggggg..............
Have you had your medicin today?
What are you implying? And I hope you are not serious.
I'm implying that their legal system is different from that of the US and that a similar case may or may not be possible in the US. I know that the UK has extremely strict libel laws that go beyond anything that would be possible in the US and perhaps Canada has as well.
I'll have to agree with you on this Ben. Slander and libel are not protected by freedom of the press or freedom of speech. Yes we are entitled to our opinions and have the right to put them in the press or freely speak about them but we also have to remember that if we slander somebody or put something in print that is incorrect it is libel.
That's all well and good. Just, some may find your discourteous phrasing to be a little bitter tasting.

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