A judge has ruled that two women who called the president of a Canadian medical imaging centre’s slur-filled tweets “homophobic and transphobic” was a “fair comment”
One of the top judges in Ontario, Canada, tossed two $6 million lawsuits launched by Probhash Mondal and his company, Guelph Medical Imaging, that sought damage costs against Stephanie Marie Evans-Bitten and Kathryn Evans-Bitten.
Justice E Morgan of the Ontario Superior Court dismissed Mondal’s claims for failing under the Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation, intended to prevent people from wielding the justice system like a club to silence fair comment in matters of public interest.
Morgan wrote in his decision Tuesday (1 March) that the married couple calling out Mondal’s tweets, which included an “offensive, derogatory slur” and referring to prime minister Justice Trudeau as “defiling” the national flag by waving one with a rainbow on it, was in no way an “overreaction”.
After all, Morgan reflected, Twitter is a “medium where outlandish criticism is the norm,” where calling out prejudiced comments is fair comment.
“There is nothing said by the Defendants that, in context, is harsher than, or is an overreaction to, the language of Mr Mondal’s tweets themselves,” he wrote.
“What the communications in issue amount to is a set of polar opposite views on cultural politics, gender politics, and Politics with a capital ‘P’.
“Mr Mondal jumped into the turbulent river of Twitter commentary with some vulgarly worded observations that touched a nerve with the Defendants.
“He got it back as good as he gave it, and got wet in the process.”
According to Guelph Today, Mondal said he plans to “clear his name” by appealing the decision.
“I wish to clear my name because, really, I have never been against the LGBTQ2S+ community,” Mondal said in a statement.
LGBT+ people need to be able to ‘able to talk frankly’ in the face of hatred, says lawyer
Mondal had tweeted on two of his professional Twitter accounts, Guelph Medical Imaging (@GMImaging) and United Brotherhood of Medical Imaging Clinics in Ontario (@UBMICO1), the transphobic slur “t****y,” among other tweets, the defendants argued.
He also tweeted at Trudeau, writing: “That which he waves is NOT our national flag. Please do not defile our flag.”
In another tweet referencing a news story about Toronto mayor John Tory attending a drag show in the Church-Wellesley Village, Mondal wrote: “Where’s the tr***y, John Tory’s got some benjamins for your thong!!!”
According to the judge, Stephanie had seen the tweets and “read and understood [them] being homophobic and transphobic”.
“On #ComingOutDay2020 I’m sad that I have to travel outside of my hometown of #Guelph #Ontario to receive medical imaging care because the CEO of our monopolized imaging health care here calls people ‘trannies’ and hates gay pride.. this is #Canada,” Stephanie tweeted on October 2020.
So Mondal sued both Stephanie and Kathryn for “defaming” him, seeking $5 million in general damages and $1 million in punitive damages, aggravated and exemplary damages.
But the judge dismissed Mondal’s suits, which, if they had gone the other way, could have raised questions on how freedom of speech can collide with the rights of minority groups, Stephanie’s lawyer, Marcus McCann, told The Star.
“I was concerned when I first saw this case that if it was allowed to proceed it could seriously restrict what queer and trans people say in public and on the internet,” McCann said.
“If there was a threat of a lawsuit every time someone called out something they perceive to be hurtful or inappropriate in some way, you could see a lot less of that in the public sphere.”
“It’s an important decision,” McCann added.
“LGBTQ communities have an interest in being able to talk frankly — even when they get it wrong — about matters of discrimination, homophobia, and disrespectful or hurtful language.
“If advocates regularly faced lawsuits when they raised these difficult and thorny topics, they would do so less often, if at all.”