New tort for online harassment recognized by court

A new tort of “harassment in internet communications” has been recognized after Ontario Superior Court found that traditional defamation law remedies have been thrown into disarray by the internet.

In a case dealing with extraordinary campaigns of malicious harassment and defamation carried out unchecked, for many years, as unlawful acts of reprisal, Ontario Superior Court Justice David Corbett held that while regulation of speech carries with it the risk of over-regulation, even tyranny, doing nothing also also “carries with it the risk of anarchy and the disintegration of order.”

[4]               Freedom of speech and the law of defamation have developed over centuries to balance the importance of preserving open public discourse, advancing the search for truth (which must allow for unpopular and even incorrect speech), protecting personal reputations, promoting free democratic debate, and enforcing personal responsibility for statements made about others.  The value of freedom of speech, and the need for some limits on that freedom, have long been recognised as central to a vibrant and healthy democracy and, frankly, any decent society.

[5]               The internet has cast that balance into disarray.

[6]               This case illustrates some of the inadequacies in current legal responses to internet defamation and harassment.  This court’s response is a solution tailored for these cases and addresses only the immediate problem of a lone publisher, driven by hatred and profound mental illness, immune from financial constraints and (dis)incentives, apparently ungovernable except through the sledgehammer response of incarceration…

It is clear that the law needs better tools, greater inter-jurisdictional cooperation, and greater regulation of the electronic “marketplace” of “ideas” in a world with near universal access to the means of mass communication.

Here is the ruling.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.