In the age where Internet users making defamatory statements can hide behind anonymity and where cyberbullying is an ongoing issue, Theralase Technologies Inc. v. Lanter, 2020 ONSC 205 marks the first case of its kind in Ontario in warning that anonymous online users are not shielded against default judgment.
The case stems from a pharmaceutical company and two of its officers who brought an action against 12 individuals believed to have published defamatory statements against the plaintiffs as anonymous internet posters in a website’s chat forum. The posts range from accusing the plaintiffs of being “untruthful and unprofessional” to misogynistic slurs that were noted by the court to be “particularly disgusting."
Prior to commencing the action, the plaintiffs were able to obtain a court order requiring the website owner to disclose the identities of the anonymous users. However, the website owner claimed that a technical issue prevented it from determining the defendants’ names and it was only able to provide email addresses for most of the defendants. A court order was then granted to the plaintiffs to serve the defendants by email and by private message to their message board accounts. Many of the email addresses used generated error messages but one defendant responded and was identified.
The plaintiffs then brought a motion to move the remaining 10 defendants in default. The court in this case was then required to consider whether it could grant summary judgment against an unidentified person.