Cyberbully victim awaits ruling on bid to sue anonymously

Children and their parents will find out Thursday whether their identities can be protected if they try to sue a cyberbully.

Nova Scotia teen, father want identities protected in pursuit of Facebook page author

The Supreme Court of Canada will rule Thursday in the case of a Nova Scotia girl who wants to remain anonymous while seeking to identify the author of an allegedly defamatory Facebook page. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)

Children and their parents will find out Thursday whether their identities can be protected if they try to sue a cyberbully.

A 17-year-old high school student, identified in court documents as A.B., and her father are asking the Supreme Court of Canada to protect their identity in a court order that would force an internet company to reveal the identity of a cyberbully.

The Nova Scotia teenager was 15 when she discovered a fake Facebook page had been created using her own Facebook profile photo and a slightly differently spelled version of her name. The page contained defamatory material about her physical appearance and sexual practices.

Her father, interviewed by CBC a year and a half ago with his identity concealed, said, "She is a child, you know, crying, wondering why someone would do that. As far as she's concerned she has no enemies, she gets along with everybody. Who would be so rude, so cruel?"

The fake Facebook page was put up in March of 2010, and removed that same month. Facebook provided an IP address, and the teenager and her father applied to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to force Eastlink, the telecommunications company, to disclose the identity of whoever created the page, so they could sue for defamation.

The judge granted the order, but the order was stayed until either A.B. and her father were willing to use their full names or the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal allowed them to use their initials only.

A.B. had also asked that the defamatory contents of the Facebook page be covered by a publication ban. The judge refused, saying that he found no evidence of emotional harm done to A.B. during the period the page was online.

The Nova Scotia Appeals Court denied both requests.

Protection from 'further harm'

Michelle Awad, A.B.'s lawyer, said the main principle in this case is that A.B. is a minor.

Halifax lawyer Michelle Awad represents A.B., a teenaged girl who was cyberbullied and wants to remain anonymous. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

"We're trying to avoid further harm, further notoriety, and she's a vulnerable member of society, so we're attempting through this process to protect her."

Awad said that it's necessary to not only protect A.B.'s identity but also to impose a publication ban on the contents of the fake page, even though that page was available for anyone on the internet to read before it was taken down.

"If a number of people from her school, or wherever, read it in the first place and recognize it again, they're going to know who she is, and who knows how quickly that can spread."

Two media outlets, the Halifax Herald, publisher of the main newspaper in Nova Scotia, and Global Television opposed the publication ban, arguing freedom of the press.

Global Television eventually dropped out of the case and the Halifax Herald did not make any submissions to the Supreme Court of Canada.

A.B.'s lawyer says that the lower court judges failed to consider the special vulnerability of children and disregarded the obvious risk of harm to her if her identity is exposed.

Bullying Canada and Kids Help Phone are interveners in the case, on the side of A.B.

A.B.'s father told CBC that he's sold property to pay for legal fees, but he's promised his daughter he'll find out who created the Facebook page.

"We're not a wealthy family and she says, 'Dad, I don't want you to spend any more money.' I said, 'Well, don't you worry about the money. I want to protect you. I told you we'd find out who done it.'"