A New Tort of Internet Harassment
A recent court case has confirmed that Canada acknowledges that online harassment can be a cause of action. This interesting case examined the allegations against a defendant claiming defamation, harassment and private nuisance. There were multiple plaintiffs in this case that alleged that the defendant engaged in online harassment which involved bullying and hate speech. The plaintiffs claimed that the online harassment had been occurring for over a decade and even extended to harassment and bullying towards the plaintiffs' family and friends. For this, the plaintiffs brought forth an application to have the defendant deemed a “vexatious litigant” under the Courts of Justice Act. The application to deem the defendant “vexatious litigant” was granted, leaving the defendant’s ability to appeal any further legal proceedings limited. Ultimately, the judge found that the defendant did in fact engage in a vile and vexatious manner of online-stalking against the plaintiffs.
The extent of online harassment and bullying has become more apparent in the new age of technology, social media and the internet. In Canada, only a few provinces have introduced legislation to combat cyberbullying, following earlier developments in England, Australia and New Zealand. This case confirms that online harassment can be a cause of action in Canada.
A New Tort for Online Harassment
It is no question that online defamation can have devastating effects, as we have seen in the case referenced above. Not only can online bullying and harassment have effects on one's career, reputation and mental health, but it can also present a violation to one's legal rights. A prior decision at the Ontario Court of Appeal found that "the tort of intentional infliction of mental suffering was a sufficient remedy in the circumstances for workplace harassment, and held it had not been provided with any foreign judicial authority, academic literature or compelling policy rationale to justify recognizing a new tort". This landmark decision is important because it recognized the common law tort of internet harassment-proclaiming itself to be the first common law court outside of the U.S. to recognize this type of tort.
What are the consequences?
A defendant that maliciously or intentionally engages in online harassment that becomes harmful, and is done so to an extreme degree for a duration of time, with the intent to cause fear, anxiety or emotional distress resulting in the plaintiff suffering harm is guilty of online tort harassment.