Freedom of Speech is one of the foundational principles of Canada. It is essential that individuals are able to freely speak their minds without being afraid of some dumb-ass politician filing a $6 million lawsuit against them.
Phyllis Morris is [allegedly] one of those dumb-ass politicians. Former politician, to be exact. She was the mayor of the Town of Aurora, Ontario, until voters tossed her out of office in the 2010 municipal election.
I guess they thought she wasn’t much of a mayor.
Morris was very upset with the posts of some anonymous bloggers on a local website during the runup to the 2010 municipal election. The comments were critical of her actions as Aurora’s mayor.
That’s absolutely fair game for public comment, during an election or not. Get over it.
A mayor is a public official, and her decisions (both good and bad) are always open to debate by the citizens who pay her salary. Morris’s deep-seated need to stifle any negative commentary about her ability to perform her duties as mayor clearly makes her unfit for the job, in my opinion. For that reason alone I applaud the good citizens of Aurora for tossing her from office.
Since the actual writers of the comments that offended her were anonymous, she sued the next people in line; people she claims were moderators of the comments for this particular blog, Richard Johnson, Bill Hogg, and Elizabeth Bishenden.
That’s not the most ridiculous part of the her lawsuit either. She’s actually named the creators of the WordPress blogging software as defendants to this lawsuit too.
No, I’m not making this up!
Phyllis Morris named Automattic Inc., the company behind the WordPress blogging software as defendants in her lawsuit, as though they have any control at all over the individual website that happens to use their software.
It’s absurd to sue the company who creates a piece of blogging software just because that software was used to create the website that hosted comments she doesn’t like.
Why didn’t she sue IBM or Intel or any other computer hardware manufacturers? After all, the blog software obviously ran on a computer, right?
That would make about as much sense as the rest of her asinine lawsuit.
Morris’s lawsuit also seeks the identities of those anonymous bloggers who made the allegedly offending comments, and that’s where the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) decided to step in.
The CCLA was granted intervenor status on December 31, 2010, paving the way for them to “intervene in a motion in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to ensure that freedom of speech on the Internet is given broad protection.”
In their factum submitted to the Court, the CCLA states:
“While the Internet should not be used as a shield to allow people to break the law, neither should a simple request to the courts result in disclosure of identifying information. The CCLA will argue that a freedom of speech and privacy interests should be given significant weight in making decisions of this nature, particularly when political speech is at issue. The right of individuals to comment on and criticize the way in which public officials perform their duties is vital in a democracy, and civil lawsuits should not be used to chill this kind of speech.”
To quote SGM Law, the firm defending the three named defendants in this case:
The lawsuit, which was brought in Ms. Morris’ capacity as Mayor, alleged that the Mayor was defamed by unnamed bloggers in comments posted on the Aurora Citizen blog. The defendants were not alleged to have been the authors of the defamatory posts, but rather moderators who had the ability to publish or delete the allegedly defamatory comments.
Not only did Ms. Morris not say what comments or parts of comments so offended her, she refused to provide this information to the defendants’ lawyers despite repeated requests.
That’s asinine. (just like her lawsuit)
If you’re going to sue someone for defamation you must prove that what the person or persons said was actually untrue or defamatory. By refusing to say what caused her to be so offended, she’s torpedoing her own case.
She initially talked the Town of Aurora into footing the bill for her frivolous lawsuit. Now that she’s been removed from that office, the Town has decided to cancel that funding.
Now that the Town of Aurora has stopped funding the case the defendants are now moving to have Morris put up a security bond to cover their legal costs in the event she loses her case, which she almost assuredly will.
Mr. Johnson, Mr. Hogg and Ms. Bishenden believe that comments about government are entitled to constitutional protection under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A government (such as the Aurora Town Council or its Mayor) is not permitted to sue citizens for defamation. As the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has previously held, “everyone has a right to her opinion, whether sound or ill-advised, moderate or extreme, well-documented, or utterly baseless. And everyone has a right to voice her opinion, whether orally or in writing.”
The Ontario Courts have held that litigation by the government which stifles its critics cannot be permitted:
“The government may not imprison, or fine, or sue, those who criticize it. The government may respond. This is fundamental. Litigation is a form of force, and the government must not silence its critics by force.”
Lawsuits like this have a name that first was coined to refer to companies who sued people who were saying things publicly that those companies didn’t like: Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation, or SLAPP for short.
Companies have sued individuals for taking a public stand against their business practices in order to shut them up. It’s hard to protest the unethical actions of a company when you’re trying to figure out how to dig yourself out from a multi-million dollar lawsuit.
This is exactly what the [allegedly] childish Phyllis Morris did. By filing a $6 million lawsuit against these people she was trying to silence public criticism of her actions just prior to the 2010 election.
Our Right to Freedom of Speech is one of our most precious.
We must be free to express our opinions about our world, our politicians, our government and the actions of people in the public eye. We call them “public servants” for a reason: they are to serve the public. Period.
They are NOT our lords and masters, even though that’s how the majority of them act most of the time.
Freedom of speech allows us all to speak our mind about public officials without fear of multi-million dollar lawsuits being filed against us.
I hope the judge tosses the entire thing and orders Phyllis Morris to pay all legal costs for the defendants.
That’s the only sane thing to do with this case.
Bill Hogg says
News Update: Phyllis Morris has filed for discontinuance and a notice of abandonment
Christopher di Armani says
Great news! Thanks for letting me know Bill!