Michael Geist said in a recent Canadian court decision on anonymous speech can be empowering – whistleblowers depend on to preserve their identity and political actors in some countries face serious repercussions if they speak out – but it also has the danger of messages that cross the line into libel without appropriate accountability. Although I disagree that defamation is an acceptable reason for a court to find someone’s identity, the outcome of this process seems favorable.
The court was not asked to determine whether the positions in question were in fact defamatory. Rather, it simply raised the question of whether to order disclosure of personal information about themselves posters same so that someone could make a libel suit. The court relied on Warman v. Fournier, an earlier defamation case in Canada and asked, ‘(1) That there had a reasonable expectation of anonymity, (2) whether the applicant established a prima facie case of wrongdoing by the poster, (3) if the applicant has attempted to identify the poster and was unable to do and (4) whether the public interest favoring disclosure outweighs the legitimate interests of freedom of expression and right to privacy of the person sought to be identified, if disclosure is ordered.
In this case, the order to identify the poster was refused. Since the applicant did not identify the specific defamatory words, it has failed to establish a prima facie case of defamation.
In addition, the court also ruled that the posters had a reasonable expectation of anonymity and that there was sufficient efforts to try to identify them.