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This article was published 30/8/2009 (4071 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- A petty online insult turned the spotlight on anonymous bloggers in the United States. Now, a Winnipeg lawyer is leading the fight in a similar case in Canada.
But while the U.S. case involved a model versus a wannabe fashion socialite, the Canadian case connects two Ottawa politicians including the city's controversial mayor, Larry O'Brien. It could have ramifications for the dozens, if not hundreds, of anonymous critics who pass judgment, and often libelous accusations, against everyone from politicians to celebrities to journalists.
On Aug. 19, a New York state court ordered Google to reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger using Google's Blogger forum to spew what the court said were libelous comments against a model.
On Friday, Ottawa media reported that a Winnipeg lawyer, Brian Bowman, is asking Google to take down the site zeromeanszero.blogspot.com or unmask its author.
The site is a non-stop attack against O'Brien, Ottawa city councillors, the media and occasionally other politicians.
Bowman, an expert in privacy law, says he's representing a client who has been the subject of untrue statements on the blog. Bowman says the blogger has accused his client of doing things even when his client was not in town.
Ironically, Bowman won't reveal the identity of his client, except to say it's not O'Brien.
So far, the case hasn't gone to court. Bowman is negotiating with Google. But unless Google volunteers to shut down the blog or outs the name of the writer, it's likely it will be put before a judge.
Which could begin to answer one of the biggest privacy-related questions in the Internet age: Does freedom of speech allow someone to libel someone anonymously?
How can you stop it if you don't know who is doing it?
It is cowardly in the biggest sense of the word to criticize someone or insult them while hiding behind the veil of anonymity.
I am obviously a firm believer in freedom of speech, and truth is always a winning defence against accusations of libel. But freedom of speech does not, in my opinion, include the freedom to anonymously libel someone.
The Internet should not be a tool to allow anybody to say what they want about anybody, smearing reputations and even ruining careers, without the responsibility of having to out your identity.
And yes, you can put my name on that.
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Manitoba got a lot of national airtime last week, an unusual occurrence for a province that is often overlooked.
Premier Gary Doer's sudden resignation and subsequent appointment as ambassador to the U.S. was the biggest news of the week.
Unfortunately, the other story that made national headlines was far more sinister and is the subject of a national epidemic: missing and murdered aboriginal women. More than 75 in Manitoba alone in the last few decades; and more than 500 nationwide.
After two more young women were found dead in the city in less than a month, Justice Minister Dave Chomiak announced a new task force to delve into at least 30 unsolved cases, some of which go back to the 1960s.
While that was going on, Manitoba Liberal MP Anita Neville was meeting with experts in Washington, D.C., hoping to get the issue some international help. Neville said she feels strongly there is a connection between human trafficking and the dozens of women that disappear and die violently in Canada, and she fears Canada is far behind when it comes to getting an understanding of it.
"I was looking to see what is being done and what the gaps are here," she said. "I want to know what we can learn from it."
She is demanding a comprehensive national strategy on human trafficking.
Imagine if police in every province banded together to look for links in these hundreds of cases?
Ask yourself how quickly that might have happened had more than 500 white women gone missing in Canada in the last 30 years. Or what might have been the reaction if two teenagers from the Winnipeg suburbs showed up dead in less than a month.
Neville said she is still piecing together what she learned in Washington and has a commitment from Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to include it in the party platform in the next election.
With another Manitoba MP, Conservative Joy Smith, making human trafficking her raison d'être, now the task force and Neville, maybe this issue is finally getting the kind of attention it deserves.
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