March 4, 2011
A.B. v. Bragg Communications Inc., 2011 NSCA 26
(From the headnotes published by the Courts of Nova Scotia)
Summary: A teenager, victimized by on-line bullying appealed a Chambers judge’s decision which rejected her request that she be permitted to pursue an action in defamation by concealing her identity through the use of a pseudonym, or that a publication ban be imposed such that the public would be denied access to the words posted on Facebook, which she claimed were defamatory.
Held: Appeal dismissed. Defamation is a claim that one’s reputation has been lowered in the eyes of the public. To initiate an action for defamation, one must present oneself and the alleged defamatory statements before a jury and in open court. To be able to proceed with a defamation claim under a cloak of secrecy is contrary to the quintessential features of defamation law. When injury to reputation is alleged, it is hardly surprising that personal and potentially embarrassing details will be disclosed. But that is the reality of pursuing litigation in Canadian courts, where the open-court principle is enshrined. It would be contrary to the public interest in a case of this kind to permit a plaintiff who had initiated such an action, to then pursue her claim anonymously, with her identity kept secret.
Obliging the appellant to bring her action in open court, with unrestricted publication of these proceedings will inform citizens that the appellant is taking legal action to obtain redress for the alleged lies that have been posted on Facebook. Should she be successful, one might expect that she will be lauded for her courage in defending her good name and rooting out on-line bullies who lurk in the bushes, behind a nameless IP address. The public will be much better informed as to what words constitute defamation, and alerted to the consequences of sharing information through social networking among “friends” on a 21st Century bulletin board with a proven global reach.