Tort Of Internet Harassments
In Caplan v Atas, 2021 ONSC 640, the Ontario Superior Court defined a new tort of internet harassment. The decision concerns four separate actions brought by plaintiffs for internet harassment and defamation spanning decades, and persisting despite court ordered injunctions, the defendant’s financial ruin and homelessness, and ultimately imprisonment.
Justice Corbett considered the applicable test for defamation, finding that the defendant, Ms. Atas, had in fact engaged in the conduct alleged by the plaintiffs in each of the four actions. The evidence established that her conduct was aimed not only at the individuals against whom she had grievances, but also their family and associates, with her “web of vexatious and harassing behaviour” capturing over 150 victims. Her conduct against people unknown to her was described by Justice Corbett as “sociopathic.”
Despite the test for defamation having been satisfied, the law had failed to adequately address Ms. Atas’ conduct in this case and remedy the wrongs to her victims, as poverty had rendered her judgment proof, and she failed to abide by previously issued injunctions. Additionally, the facts of the case did not support an action in intrusion upon seclusion or intentional infliction of mental suffering.
While Justice Corbett was cautious against “quick and dramatic development of the common law,” this was a case which cried out for a remedy – not only did Ms. Atas’ online publications seek to defame, but they sought to harass her victims, inciting fear, anxiety and misery. As such, Justice Corbett defined the stringent test for the new tort of internet harassment, based on the American tort of harassment in internet communications, as comprising the following elements:
- The defendant maliciously or recklessly engages in communications conduct so outrageous in character, duration, and extreme in degree, so as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and tolerance;
- The defendant’s intent in engaging in such communications conduct is to cause fear, anxiety, emotional upset or to impugn the dignity of the plaintiff; and
- The plaintiff suffers harm as a result of the defendant’s conduct.
The facts in each of the four actions at issue clearly met this stringent test, and thus the remaining question was what the appropriate remedy in this case is. Given that Ms. Atas was likely to continue this defamation and harassment, and that she was unable to pay any award of compensation, Justice Corbett ordered a permanent injunction barring Ms. Atas from posting on the internet, in any manner or on any forum, with respect to the plaintiffs and associated victims of her harassment. Justice Corbett also considered an order to remove the defamatory content presently online, but given various complications related to the circumstances of the parties, an order was instead issued to vest title in the postings to the plaintiffs such that they may take steps to have the content removed.
Due to Ms. Atas’ status as a vexatious litigant, she will require permission from a Superior Court Justice to appeal this decision.
Contact Personal Injury Lawyer – Wagners Law Firm
If you have been a victim of internet harassment, please contact our professional personal injury lawyer at Wagners to discuss your case. You can reach our team by calling: 902-425-7330 or 1-800-465-8794, or by completing a short online contact form.