A Regina, Saskatchewan teacher is suing Facebook after he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman on an Instagram account dedicated to posting allegations of sexual misconduct.
Julius Landry, 28, is suing Facebook (which owns Instagram) and three unnamed Regina residents for $1,000,000 in damages, arguing that the allegations posted about him have caused him “severe mental anguish,” physical ailments, loss of income, and loss of enjoyment of life.
VICE News has obtained the statement of claim, which was filed on August 10, and was first reported by CBC News.
In an email, Facebook said it would not comment on the lawsuit. The company said people can report posts they believe are defamatory.
VICE News also attempted to contact the Instagram account but direct messages were disabled. The account was later taken down.
The case revolves around an Instagram account called victimsvoicesregina, one of a number of similar feeds that have popped up over the summer to allow victims of alleged sexual assaults to share their stories and in some cases name alleged abusers and their workplaces. In July, VICE News reported that Simple Plan bassist David Desrosiers had resigned after he was accused of grooming a woman for sex on the victimsvoicesmontreal account.
According to the statement of claim, on July 25, victimsvoicesregina posted an allegation from an unnamed woman who said Landry raped her eight years ago. The post, which was recently deleted, alleged that Landry later showed up at the woman’s workplace when she was alone.
“He’s a teacher at a Catholic school in Regina and it terrifies me that he’s influencing our youth,” the post said, according to the statement of claim.
The statement of claim said Landry has never had non-consexual sex with anyone and has never attended anyone’s workplace repeatedly or alone at night.
The lawsuit states Landry unsuccessfully tried to have the account administrators and Instagram take down the post, after he reported it as being defamatory. It said the defendants demonstrated “bad faith” by posting defamatory statements without “ensuring any due process” including investigating the allegations.
In a recent post, the account administrators said “due to the recent legal action being taken against this page, we are making the difficult decision to take a step back. We want every survivor to know that we still believe you. We want this community to be proud of the immense change it has created in a short time.”
As of Tuesday morning, the account had been deleted. A new Instagram account called “victimsvoicesyqr” has been created and the person behind it said in a post the account will not use “identifiers of either party.”
Regina-based lawyer Sharon Fox, whose firm Nychuk & Company is handling the lawsuit, told CBC News lawsuits involving 10 other men are in the works.
Toronto-area lawyer Ryan Keeney said Landry is “facing a steep uphill battle” trying to get Facebook to pay damages for another party’s statements.
“Most often in Canada, internet intermediaries that provide a platform for third-party content are considered to be passive instruments and/or non-publishers when defamatory material is posted on their platform,” Keeney said.
He said Facebook could try to use an “innocent dissemination” defence, which protects booksellers and news agencies from disseminating libellous information unknowingly.
“Since the law hasn't really definitively answered this question, no one can predict with total certainty what a court would do with this case,” he said, adding Landry’s lawyers may be able to compel Facebook to provide information that would identify the creators of the account.
Toronto-based lawyer Gillian Hnatiw said the rise of such accounts shows that “the systems we have available aren’t working and people who have been victimized and abused don't feel like they have any other avenues to speak out or be heard.”
Hnatiw said the accounts are an extension of the whisper network women use to warn each other about alleged predators.
“This is how women have protected each other forever.”
Legally, people running these accounts may not realize that they can be sued for defamation if they’re just posting other people’s allegations, she said.
She said someone considering making such an account should ask themselves if they’re willing to take on this battle if it turns into a civil suit and should potentially seek out a lawyer’s advice. Toronto, Ottawa, and Thunder Bay are currently offering four hours of free legal advice to sex assault survivors through a pilot program.
York University student Mandi Gray is currently completing her PhD looking at lawsuits launched against sex assault victims.
Gray said she understands the need to create these forums to share stories, though she said it’s a “very risky situation”—particularly if the person is posting third-hand accounts from an anonymous source.
She said one of her bigger concerns is how lawsuits are going to stop more women from sharing their stories.
“The libel chill is so significant,” said Gray, who is currently named in a defamation lawsuit filed by former University of British Columbia professor Steven Galloway. Galloway was accused of sexual assault by a former student; he was never charged. In 2018, he filed a lawsuit against the student and two dozen others.
Gray said there is research that shows sharing stories of abuse without naming the abuser can provide catharsis.
However, she said it’s troubling that abusers can hop from one workplace to another, often without their new colleagues ever knowing that they were accused of sexual misconduct.
“I do wish that there was some way that we could share names and experiences without the risk of litigation but I honestly haven’t come across a way to do that,” she said.