Western Quebec City Fires Back Against Facebook Trolls

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A small municipality in western Quebec is claiming a big win against anonymous online defamation after it exposed a social media user who made public accusations of “illegal actions” against two councilors.The town of Cantley, about 20 kilometers north of Ottawa, has won two court injunctions to obtain information from Facebook and Internet service provider Videotron to identify a user with a fake online profile.

In July, the user, who claimed to be the daughter of a former town director general, named two councilors in a Facebook comment.

The user, who as part of the settlement with the municipality is not publicly identified, issued a public apology last week in which he admitted his comments had no basis, and had been “ill-considered and unacceptable. “.

The municipality hired the Montreal firm DHC Avocats, which applied for a court order to obtain the IP address used when the fake Facebook account was created and the comment posted. The firm requested a second order to obtain the address of the person from Videotron. Both applications were successful.

And [you] to be attacked on Facebook like that, you have to defend yourself. It has to stop.– Coun. Simon Joanisse

“People think that sometimes hiding behind a fake account and using a different pseudonym can make any action you do on the Internet legal, but it isn’t,” said Anthony Freiji, an attorney at the firm.

Freiji said the company requested an order from Norwich, typically used to get information from a bank in a fraud case.

He said it was rare for municipalities to be involved in defamation complaints because a citizen’s right to free speech by criticizing a government raises the standard for what is considered harm.

“Trolling is not to defame. Defamation is strict. It’s more than just insulting or making someone uncomfortable, ”Freiji said. “They were alluding to illegal actions without any proof. “

The message was “irresponsible”

In a public apology written in French, the user said he regretted his actions and apologized to the municipality, councilors and relatives.

“Even today, I don’t understand why I acted this way. This time of year has not been easy for me due to the major changes in my life which have brought me a lot of anxiety and angst, ”the anonymous user wrote.

Cantley Coun. Louis Simon Joanisse claims that an anonymous Facebook user “did damage” by accusing “of unlawful actions” against him and a colleague on the council. 0:35

“I am aware that I have acted irresponsibly and I want to make it clear that the allegations I made were unfounded. ”

The user is responsible for covering the legal costs of the municipality and must also pay each councilor an undisclosed amount as compensation.

‘This has to stop’

Cantley Coun. Louis Simon Joanisse was visibly moved when he described how he and his family dealt with the consequences of the misrepresentation circulating in the community.

“The point is, he caused harm to people and families. Not just mine, [but also] My colleague [Coun. Aimé Sabourin], and also the rest of the board, ”Joanisse said.

“I say to all the people who are involved in politics and even in a private business, if they are attacked on Facebook like that, you have to defend yourself. It has to stop. “

Cantley Coun. Louis Simon Joanisse claims that people who make false claims online can no longer hide behind social media pseudonyms. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images)

The law firm said other municipalities have inquired about pursuing similar actions based on the Cantley case.

Stéphane Émard-Chabot, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and a former Ottawa city councilor, said the case may be the first of its kind, although it is possible that similar settlements could not have not been widely reported.

“This is a big step forward in rebalancing public online discussions,” said Émard-Chabot.

“Politicians are legitimate targets of criticism. We must be able to criticize, question, challenge our elected officials. It is part of democracy. But being able to hide behind social media anonymity to launch baseless accusations just to try to harm someone has been problematic. ”

Émard-Chabot said city officials, who are often part-time politicians without the financial backing of a political party, may find it more difficult to defend themselves against unfounded allegations.

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