Gail Benoit has won a victory in a Nova Scotia provincial court against the administrator of a Facebook group called “STOP Gail Benoit from Ever Dealing with Dogs.”
Benoit is a dog breeder who has been convicted of multiple animal cruelty charges dating back to 2010. She also has a conviction for assaulting an animal welfare officer. The Facebook site was established in 2013.
In a decision published on Wednesday, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Diane Rowe has ruled the Stop Gail Benoit Facebook site meets the definition of cyber-bullying established by Nova Scotia’s Intimate Images and Cyber-Protection Act. The judge has ordered the administrator of the Facebook group, Elizabeth Langille, to take down the site and have no future contact with Benoit, except through a lawyer.
Benoit made an application to the court last July asking for an order to have the Facebook site disabled, claiming that the posts were threatening and aimed at preventing her from owning or dealing with dogs. Langille did not respond nor appear in court. Rowe noted that a post must be “of malicious intent” and “cause or is likely to cause harm to another individual’s health or well-being” to meet the definition of cyber-bullying established by the Cyber-Protection Act.
In her written decision, Rowe quoted several posts which met that bar, including:
“I would have no issues breaking her legs. This bitch needs to be stopped but it looks like it’s up to us as the law never does a thing to her proof or not.”
“Yeah someone will be going to jail and it wont be her. But as long as she get in the ambulance I could probably live with it. I’ll tell ya I’s be getting my 267 dollars worth tho for an assault charge. Damn I could kill the bitch teach a criminals for 5 years and be out. Sometimes it’s nice living in noca Scotia.”
Rowe’s decision notes “there are other postings the Court is satisfied were made on the ‘Stop Gail Benoit” group that refer to Ms. Benoit allegedly watching people’s homes to observe pets in preparation to commit theft, a threat to beat Ms. Benoit to a pulp, alleging Ms. Benoit is driving while impaired and unlicensed, alerting members of the group to Ms. Benoit’s alleged whereabouts in Nova Scotia, and indicating a willingness to harm Ms. Benoit.”
In her decision ordering Langille to take down the STOP Gail Benoit Facebook site, Rowe stated:
The evidence that was accepted by the Court, as referenced in this decision, indicates that the “Stop Gail Benoit” Facebook group encouraged members to engage in a new, and disturbing, form of cyber vigilantism, facilitated by social media… The post that comments “it’s up to us as the law never does a thing to her proof or not” captures the intent of the “Stop Gail Benoit” group. The rule of law would be subverted readily if cyber vigilantism becomes a norm.
Protection of the public in accordance with the rule of law is the role of the criminal justice system in our democratic society, rather than of individuals via social media account.
Although Benoit succeeded in getting this Facebook group taken down, Rowe said she was unable to deal with comments made on a second anti-Benoit Facebook site because the breeder hadn’t filed a separate court application. Benoit did not have a lawyer and represented herself.
This case may not end public comments on the conduct of Benoit, but the ruling may have important implications in Nova Scotia about what can and cannot be said on Facebook.