Twelve internet forum users who were found to have anonymously (or so they thought) posted defamatory comments about the owners of a Toronto-based biotechnology firm were just ordered by an Ontario Superior Court judge to pay up to $75,000 — each — in damages.
There’s a hitch, however, in that only two of said online trolls have actually been identified by name.
Justice Frederick Myers released his precedent-setting judgment on Monday after hearing the case of Theralase Technologies Inc. vs. Charles Lanter, Michael Borovec and “John Doe” numbers 1 through 10.
“If people want to make hurtful statements about others and then try to hide from the responsibility to prove the truth or other justification for doing so… their cowardice is reprehensible,” wrote Myers in the summary of his ruling.
“In my view, they should bear costs on a substantial indemnity basis.”
The case stems from a series of false and inflammatory statements posted about Theralase founder Roger Dumoulin-White and his wife, Kristina Hachey, in a forum on the website Stockhouse.com during 2014 and 2015.
Stockhouse, a resource for small cap investors, maintains forum channels dedicated to individual companies for members to discuss trades and provide one another with advice.
All 12 defendants are alleged to have written things in Stockhouse’s Theralase-specific forum that could have reasonably damaged the company’s ability to make money.
“Generalizing for introductory purposes, the postings assert that Theralase management are untruthful and unprofessional, the corporation is operating unlawfully and improperly from the investors’ perspectives, and the personal plaintiffs are unprofessional, incompetent managers who have committed criminal acts,” writes Myers.
“Ms. Hachey is also the subject of at least one misogynistic post that is particularly disgusting.”
That post, written by someone with the screen name NASTYNASTA, asks how much it would cost to have sex with Hachey, who is also Theralase’s CEO, suggesting that $200 USD would be an appropriate figure
“As the pseudonym suggests, this poster was deliberately disgusting and hurtful… Ms. Hachey testifies to having felt threatened and demeaned,” wrote Myers in his ruling, ordering NASTYNASTA to pay a total of $35,000 in aggravated, general and punitive damages.
Stockhouse provided Dumoulin-White and Hachey with email addresses for all but one of the forum members who had posted malicious remarks about them. Lawyers for Theralase sent libel notices and requests for identification to all of these email addresses, as well as to the inboxes of forum accounts that were still active.
Only Lanter complied with the request, though another (Borovic) was identified by Theralese as a former employee.
With the exception of Lanter, all of the defendants were “duly noted in default,” meaning that they legally admitted to the allegations by failing to contest them.
As a group, the defendants must jointly pay $55,000 in legal fees, but their individual financial penalties vary widely based on the severity of their posts
Borovec, who called Dumoulin-White and Hachey liars, sociopaths, scum, frauds and, in the case of the latter, a “bipolar pot-head,” was ordered to pay $15,000 to Theralase and $40,000 to each of the plaintiffs for libel, aggravated and general damages.
“Mr. Borovec is a disgruntled former employee. His posts lay bare his express malice against the plaintiffs,” wrote Myers. “His threats and the particularly scurrilous nature of his posts have caused extra humiliation and suffering by the human plaintiffs.”
Collecting this money from Borovec will likely prove less difficult than collecting from those who are only known by pseudonyms and email addresses.
Nonetheless, Myers has deemed the suit legitimate in light of the fact that all defaulting defendants were “served at an email address provided by him or her to Stockhouse.com or through their website private messaging accounts on the Stockhouse.com site.”
“How the plaintiffs will go about amending the title of proceedings for enforcement purposes once they identify one or more of the defendants is not before me,” noted Myers.
“I make no findings about how any judgment is to be enforced against a person who is currently identified only by a pseudonym.”