Councillor Sued for Social Media Post

Law Commentary
By
Mark Bourrie
June 19, 2020
a person using a cellphone with graphic social icons floating out of it.

This case raises some interesting issues.

An Ottawa city councilor is being sued for going too far in what he considered as self-defence on social media.
An Ottawa city councilor is being sued for going too far in what he considered as self-defence on social media.

An Ottawa city councilor is being sued for going much too far in what he likely saw as self-defence on social media. When a constituent called the councilor out for claims that he –the member of council — had improved policing in his ward, the politician allegedly responded by going after the employment of the critic’s husband. Turns out the critic was married to a cop. The councilor fired off a complaint to Ottawa’s chief of police (at the time). It was a rotten thing to do, and Integrity Commissioner Robert Marleau issued a report criticizing that behavior.

My own take, without going deep into the merits of the case: taking a dispute from the Internet into the real world is, to be blunt, usually a shitty thing to do.  It’s justifiable if there are threats, racism, doxing or some other seriously awful behavior. But when it’s a dispute over opinions about the reason for a reduction in crime, this kind of behavior is simply an attempt to shut down free expression rights guaranteed by the Charter.

It will be interesting to see where this goes. The plaintiff is seeking damages that do not seem outrageously high. The quantum, $32,000, makes this a small claims case, which means neither party is likely to be burdened by high legal fees generated by the procedural maze that litigants must find their way through before getting their day in court in simplified procedure and full procedure cases.

Usually, these cases get settled before trial, and many settlements end up with non-disclosure agreements. But still, I expect the word to get out to other politicians that going after the jobs of your critics or their spouses is a really, really bad idea. And most of the time, it is overkill in any social media dispute.