April 26, 2019 3:50 pm
Updated: April 27, 2019 3:45 pm

B.C. billionaire sues Twitter for defamation over abusive tweets linked to 2016 U.S. election

In this June 21, 2007 file photo, Frank Giustra, a Canadian businessman, speaks as former President Bill Clinton looks on during a news conference in New York.

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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A high-profile West Vancouver businessman is suing Twitter for defamation, after becoming a target of harassment related to the 2016 U.S. election campaign.

Frank Giustra, billionaire founder of Lionsgate Entertainment and CEO of the Fiore Group of Companies, filed the suit in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday.

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The suit alleges that Giustra, who had “a valued and unblemished reputation in the province of British Columbia … throughout the world,” has had his image tarnished by a deluge of tweets beginning around February 2015.

“The plaintiff was targeted by a group who vilified the plaintiff for political purposes in relation to the 2016 United States election … in part because of his charitable and philanthropic work in support of the Clinton Foundation,” the suit reads.

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The suit, which includes an appendix with pages of sample tweets, alleges that Twitter published multiple defamatory posts ranging from allegations of involvement in child sex trafficking to business crimes.

“Those publications include tweets stating that the plaintiff is ‘corrupt,’ ‘a murderous thief,’ a ‘criminal,’ and is engaged in ‘pizzagate‘ which is a false, discredited and malicious conspiracy theory in which the plaintiff was labeled a ‘pedophile,'” reads the suit.

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“Twitter also published threatening posts which included suggestion that the plaintiff be killed with ‘2 bullets to the back of his head,'” it adds.

The suit claims that Giustra notified Twitter multiple times about the tweets, demanding that they be removed.

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It alleges some posts were taken down, but despite repeated requests, the platform has refused to delete and has continued to publish a large number of “false, defamatory, abusive and threatening tweets.”

The schedule of tweets attached to the suit include messages posted as recently as this month.

The suit claims defamatory statements about Giustra being involved in fraud and crimes has damaged his business reputation, while allegations of crimes involving children have impacted his work with children’s charities.

The suit calls for a permanent injunction forcing Twitter to delete and stop publishing defamatory tweets about Giustra, and that the platform prevent the publication of future defamatory materials.

None of the claims have been proven in court. Global News has requested comment from Twitter.

David Crerar, a Vancouver lawyer with Borden Ladner Gervais says Giustra likely chose to file the suit in B.C. because U.S. law would clearly protect Twitter from claims of defamation.

“Online companies such as Twitter or Facebook or Google are generally not considered to be a publisher, and in fact is protected by statute against being considered a publisher,” he said.

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However, Crerar said while platforms that passively act as a conduit are generally protected from such liability in Canada, the law isn’t totally settled — particularly if a platform is informed about the comments, but does not act to remove them.

As an example, he pointed to a case where B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver took the National Post to court for defamation over posts made in the online comments section of a news story.

In that case, he said, the National Post did remove the comments, which the judge said was enough action not to be liable.

“The judge said it was a prompt enough and responsible enough action that [she wasn’t] going to consider them to be publishers,” Crerar said.

“But the subtext is — exactly as pleaded in the Giustra claim that Twitter was informed that there were defamatory posts and they took some down, but they didn’t take the ones that they’re being sued about down — and that they are liable upon probably the language in the National Post case.”

Crerar said there could be issues with the B.C. court’s ability to enforce any potential ruling against Twitter, as an American company, but he said the corporation has enough “skin in the game” in Canada that it would likely comply, if ordered.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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