A teenage girl allegedly defamed on a bogus Facebook page can proceed with a lawsuit without revealing her name, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Thursday.
The judges ruled 7-0 that the girl is entitled to anonymity to prevent her from becoming a victim a second time.
But the court also rejected her request for a publication ban on the defamation suit, as long as she is not identified in any materials made public.
The case made its way to the Supreme Court after the girl’s family appealed a Nova Scotia Court of Appeal decision.
The girl, known as A.B. in court documents, was 15 when she and her family sought a court order compelling Internet service provider Eastlink to reveal the identity of the person who had allegedly set up the fake Facebook profile about her.
The lower court granted the order, but said she couldn’t proceed with a defamation case anonymously because there is an open-court principle at stake. The appeal court agreed.
That was a mistake, Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella wrote in Thursday’s decision.
“In my view, both courts erred in failing to consider the objectively discernable harm to A.B.,” she wrote.
The Halifax Chronicle Herald and Global Television originally opposed the idea of a publication ban. Global’s involvement in the case ended in 2010.
Abella said there’s no reason for a publication ban on the whole suit.
“She should be entitled to proceed anonymously, but once her identity has been protected, I see no reason for a further publication ban preventing the publication of the non-identifying content of the fake Facebook profile.”
A.B. found the offending Facebook page online in March 2010.
The fake profile used her picture, a slightly modified version of her name, and other identifying particulars. An accompanying commentary made unflattering comments on her appearance and included some sexually explicit references. The page was removed by the Internet provider later that month.
It’s vital to protect the victims of online bullying, Abella wrote.
“In addition to the psychological harm of cyberbullying, we must consider the resulting inevitable harm to children — and the administration of justice — if they decline to take steps to protect themselves because of the risk of further harm from public disclosure.”
She said the interests at stake are clear:
“The girl’s privacy interests in this case are tied both to her age and to the nature of the victimization she seeks protection from. It is not merely a question of her privacy, but of her privacy from the relentlessly intrusive humiliation of sexualized online bullying.”