The Ontario Superior Court of Justice this week slapped a dozen anonymous individuals for their “defamatory” comments on an internet forum.
While the identity of the commenters hasn’t been figured out yet, thereby making it difficult to collect the fines, it is worth noting that verdicts such as these highlight the fact that staying anonymous and posting malicious content on the internet won’t guarantee immunity from punishment. That is, assuming that law enforcement are eventually able to find out who the users are.
“If people want to make hurtful statements about others and then try to hide from the responsibility to prove the truth or other justification for doing so… their cowardice is reprehensible,” said the Justice Frederick Myers in the judgment released this Monday.
The supposed “defamatory” comments were posted back in 2015 and 2016 on the website stockhouse.com, an investor-oriented message forum, directed at the publicly traded Toronto-based Theralase Technologies and the principals of the company, Roger Dumoulin-White and his wife Kristina Hachey.
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The comments posted on the message forum essentially criticized the aforementioned individuals both personally and professionally. “Roger is like a pest diseased dog spreading his filthy rabies. A mangy dog that won’t go away until he’s put down,” wrote the anonymous user Nastynasta. Another accused anonymous user wrote, “The management team are liars!!! Been lying for 21 years!!!”
The judge highlighted that Hachey was also subject to a “disgusting” misogynistic post that was completely unrelated to investor complaints. Though Stockhouse.com said that it was unable to reveal the identities of the accused individuals, it did provide the email ids for the necessary legal proceedings to go ahead.
As of now, one of the anonymous defendants responded, with the case still ongoing against him. Of the other individuals, one of them was identified as a disgruntled ex-employee of Theralase Technologies.
The Ontario Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Dumoulin-White and Hachey, while noting that the couple had succeeded in proving their claims. General damages worth $7500-$35000 were awarded against each defendant in favor of each plaintiff.
The judge has also levied aggravated or punitive damages against a few defendants of a few more thousand dollars. What’s more, the defendants were also directed to pay $55,000 in legal costs, stating that them not participating in the legal proceedings was abusive in nature.
The judge further said that he was not concerned with the collection of fines, and that it was purely the business of the plaintiffs.
“How the plaintiffs will go about amending the title of proceedings for enforcement purposes once they identify one or more of the defendants is not before me,” Myers said. “I make no findings about how any judgment is to be enforced against a person who is currently identified only by a pseudonym.”