Digital defamation case
Nunanet to release identity of client

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 11/99) - Political pundits beware -- especially if your venue has been one of Nunavut's political discussion forums.

In what could wind up to be a precedent-setting legal battle (there is currently very little case law in this area), Justice Beverly Browne of the Nunavut Court of Justice ordered Iqaluit-based Nunanet Communications to reveal the identity of a person who posted an anonymous message on the forum.

Going by the name of "baffin lander," the person alleged that a local business owner was a drug dealer and a bootlegger.

Offended by the posting in which his business name and full name were used, the business owner hired defence counsel Euan Mackay and the pair have taken the first step in instigating a legal action.

Mackay said their immediate task was to get the court to order Nunanet to comply and come forward with the identity of the poster.

That hurdle was cleared last Thursday morning when Justice Browne ordered Nunanet to reveal baffin lander's real identity within 30 days. Nunanet has agreed to comply with the court order.

Once Mackay and his client have the information they're seeking, they will then determine whether or not to proceed with filing a legal action for defamation of character and libel and slander.

Mackay said they were also considering naming Nunanet in the action.

"What is the duty of care on the Internet provider? What duty do they have to ensure that malicious publications or postings are allowed to be put on?" asked Mackay.

None, answered Nunanet's Marcel Mason. He said that in fact, the company was not at all legally responsible for what appeared on their discussion forum.

"We state that the views are those of the individual posters and not Nunanet's," said Mason, the company's Web master.

"But, certain types of posts are unacceptable and will be removed when they are noted."

Mason explained that the problem was in monitoring the site 24 hours a day, seven days a week and getting rid of the offensive material as soon as it appeared.

"It's impossible to monitor that type of discussion."

As for why Nunanet chose to follow the court order instead of fighting it, Mason said they had publicly stated prior to this incident that they had neither the resources nor the responsibility to protect people choosing to post messages on the forum.

And even if the end result isn't a lawsuit, the defendant is hoping it will clear up the murkiness surrounding the matter of responsibility.

"Perhaps there will be more responsibility by the Internet provider and also the people that post on the political discussion forum," said Mackay.