Canadian conservative website shuts down after losing defamation suit, owners plan appeal
February 3, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The conservative website Free Dominion is shutting down after a libel suit was successfully concluded against its owners.
The plaintiff, Richard Warman, is an active human rights lawyer who has been involved in several high-profile cases heard by Canada’s human rights tribunals and in defamation suits on his own behalf in the Ontario Superior Court, notably against the National Post and Ezra Levant.
The jury in the Free Dominion case ruled in October that the website’s owners, Mark and Connie Fournier, and two other defendants had committed defamation against Mr. Warman, and “acted in a manner that was highhanded and oppressive towards” him, the ruling stated.
The judge who reviewed the case for the purposes of assessing the issue of legal expenses affirmed the jury’s October decision, stating that the defendants “wrote postings to the political message board disparaging the plaintiff on many occasions. … The jury found that the defendants had acted with malice towards Mr. Warman and, as a result, awarded aggravated damages in the amount of $9,000.00 and also awarded $18,000.00 in punitive damages.”
On January 23rd, Ontario Superior Court Justice, Robert Smith added to this fine an additional sum of $80,000 for Mr. Warman’s legal costs. The sum was divided up according to a formula determined by the judge between the four defendants, with the largest share levelled against the owners of the site.
In addition to the approximately $107,000 fine, an injunction was issued against the site to “never publish, or allow to be published, anything negative about Richard Warman,” according to the Fourniers.
“This means we are barred for life from ever operating a public forum or a blog (even about cookie recipes) where the public can comment,” the Fourniers state.
“If we do so, any one of Warman’s handful of supporters could, and probably would, use a common proxy server to avoid being traced, plant a negative comment about Warman on our site, and we would both be charged with contempt of court. If that happened --unlike in the Ottawa courtroom where we were blocked at every turn from presenting a defense-- we actually would have no defense. We would both go to jail.”
“As of today, January 23, 2014, and after 13 years online, Free Dominion is closing its doors to the public. We have been successfully censored.”
The verdict in the Fournier-Warman case is particularly interesting in light of the repeal of section 13 of Canada’s Human Rights Act by Parliament on June 26th of last year. Conservative thinkers had widely blamed the provision for being used as a political weapon by the Left to silence their opponents. No doubt many of these critics would include Warman himself among those having done so.
Warman’s career has been tied to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, for whom he worked from 2002 to 2004, and was himself criticized for “posing as a neo-Nazi in order to suss out the names and addresses of his targets, in a strategy that verged on entrapment,” the National Post reported. Edward Peter Lustig, a member of the CHRC, referred to Warman’s actions as “disappointing and disturbing.”
Section 13 had banned “any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” if the person or persons affected are “identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”
In an audio message given on the Fourniers’ donation site, Connie says, “There is something wrong in a free country where negative comments about a government employee can land you in prison. … It is a precedent that endangers every single Canadian who allows comments on their forum or blog. Defamation law is wrong and outdated.”
The Fourniers plan to appeal the ruling, and consider that, if it is allowed to stand, the ruling will have a chilling effect on web-based political commentary in this country.
In an interview with LifeSiteNews.com, Ezra Levant, who has himself been at the centre of the free-speech controversy, said that, “Lawfare—that is, costly nuisance suits—is an increasingly common tactic of the political left in Canada. It’s not just against websites.”
“It's evident that since Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act was repealed, Richard Warman has shifted his campaign of ‘lawfare’ to other legal venues, including defamation actions.”