‘You can’t hide’: Alberta court finds California woman guilty of defamation against Canadian DJ

In an unusual defamation case, an Alberta judge recently awarded a Quebec DJ $1.5 million in damages stemming from a social media account run by a California woman he had never met.

Frédérik Durand, electronic dance music (EDM) producer and DJ known as Snails, says his life and reputation were destroyed by an Instagram account called @evidenceagainstsnails.

Led by Michaela Higgins, an electronic music performer and publicist in the United States, the now-deactivated account reposted allegations of sexual misconduct and physical abuse by Durand.

“It destroyed a big part of my career, of my personal life,” Durand said in a French interview with CTV News Montreal. “It affected my mental health. It affected a lot of things, my family, my girlfriend. There wasn’t a single area that it didn’t affect.”

Durand maintained that all allegations posted on Higgins’ account were false and in 2021 filed a defamation lawsuit against Higgins in Alberta.

It is rare for a case to be litigated in a province where neither the plaintiff nor the defendant live.

However, a judge in Alberta’s Court of King’s Bench said the province had jurisdiction because the Instagram account, and posts shared on it, could be directly linked to Alberta and the cancellation of two Durand shows in the province in 2021. .

“Ms. Higgins intended her publications to lower Mr. Durand’s reputation in the minds of her readers and her music community at large, and to do so specifically in Alberta,” Justice Nicholas Devlin reasoned. “It is eminently reasonable that she would face an action in which her words had the desired effect.”

“A common mistake”

The lawsuit was resolved by summary judgment, meaning the case was decided by the judge and not through a trial.

The suit was by motion for summary judgment, that is, the case was decided on the basis of an affidavit summarily because there was no genuine issue requiring a trial with oral witness testimony.

While Durand provided evidence to refute or cast doubt on the legitimacy of the claims posted on the Instagram account, Higgins said he could not afford to hire a lawyer to defend the case in Canada and questioned whether the Alberta court had jurisdiction. about the case since she lives in California.

According to the judge, Higgins did not present evidence that she could not afford an attorney and decided not to represent herself virtually, even though the option was available to her.

In her only virtual appearance, Higgins argued against jurisdiction of the case and claimed she was motivated only by a desire to protect women, according to court documents.

She did not offer any evidence, nor did she deny that she managed the account or argue that the statements she posted were true.

Devlin found that Higgins failed to verify allegations he shared on Instagram, reposted second- and thirdhand accounts of events, and ignored contradictory evidence when reposting.

Without evidence that the allegations were true, privileged and responsible communications on a matter of public interest, the judge concluded that the purpose and intent of the Instagram account was to portray Durand as a “pervert and a criminal” and to “cancel” his career.

Higgin’s desire to “protect vulnerable women,” Devlin said, does not justify reposting defamatory comments.

“There appears to be a common misconception among social media users that reposting defamatory content generated by others is protected activity, under the fair comment doctrine or otherwise. This misunderstanding should be corrected as firmly as possible,” Devlin said.

Devlin awarded $1 million for the impact Higgins’ actions had on Durand’s career and loss of income. Another $500,000 was awarded for how Durand was personally affected.

Canadian legal expert Ari Goldkind said the ruling was one of the “most wonderful decisions” he has ever seen regarding Canadian defamation law.

“For a judge to say, ‘No, just because you’re in the United States you can’t hide from our law,'” Goldkind added. “It’s really a brilliantly worded decision and I think others will use it in similar situations.”

The ruling sends a strong message to social media users, Goldkind said, that they are responsible for the content they share on social media, even that created by other users.

Higgins said she doesn’t believe she should be subject to Canadian law and isn’t worried about having to pay $1.5 million in damages.

“In order for him to enforce this ruling, he would have to file a new lawsuit in California, so I will have the opportunity to defend it,” Higgins told CTV News Edmonton.

‘I do not have any doubt’

In his judgment, Devlin ordered that Higgins be permanently prohibited from posting any online statements (original or existing) that suggest sexual misconduct or physical assault by Durand.

Higgins said he has no plans to reopen the account, but does not regret his actions and maintains that he believes the accusations he reposted.

After the ruling, he posted a story on his personal Instagram account with several posts from the deactivated page.

“I have no doubt that what I did was 100 percent solely for the purpose of protecting vulnerable women and girls,” Higgins said.

She accuses Durand of using her money to silence online critics and said she will file for bankruptcy if he decides to seek damages in the US.

Ellery Lew, Durand’s attorney, said the years-long ordeal has been difficult for his client and they were both delighted the judge ruled in Durand’s favor.

“I think the most important lesson is to be very careful about what you read on social media and repost it,” Lew said. “Not everything is true.

“Some of it is inaccurate. It’s based on third-party information, or worse, some of it could be malicious and simply deliberately false. And unless you know it, don’t repost.”

Lew said he is not sure if Durand will fight for the $1.5 million he is owed.

“It was a very traumatic and very intense experience,” Durand said. “I spent two years showing evidence, living this nightmare… I’m going to take some time for myself and absorb this news.”

Durand’s interview with CTV Montreal was translated by CTV News Montreal and via Google Translate.


With files from CTV News Montreal and Nicole Lampa of CTV News Edmonton

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