Thunder Bay – LEGAL – A recent Ontario Superior Court ruling has sent a strong message that individuals using anti-LGBTQ slurs cannot hide behind certain free speech protections. This decision paves the way for a defamation suit against a man who allegedly used a slur on social media to accuse drag performers of predatory behaviour.
The plaintiffs in this defamation case include a person who performs as a drag king and an LGBTQ not-for-profit organization in Dryden, Ontario, where they serve as the board chair. They allege that the defendant’s Facebook post referred to the drag performer as a “groomer” and insinuated that the organization was hosting events for sexual predators.
Lawyer Douglas Judson, representing the plaintiffs, emphasized the significance of this ruling, stating that it declares harmful tropes seen online, especially from far-right and American-based social media narratives, as not a matter of public interest.
In a pretrial motion, the defendant sought to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming it aimed to stifle his comments on a matter of public interest. He argued that his post, which included a CBC article featuring an image of the drag performer, was about the broadcaster’s alleged promotion of the performance at a Dryden library.
Anti-SLAPP laws, designed to protect defendants from frivolous lawsuits aimed at silencing criticism on matters of public interest, were not applicable in this case. Justice Tracey Nieckarz dismissed the anti-SLAPP motion, recognizing “groomer” as a slur that perpetuates hurtful myths and stereotypes about LGBTQ people.
Nieckarz rebuked the defendant’s public interest argument and clarified that a plain reading of his comments indicated they were about the motivations of the drag performance’s organizers and participants.
The decision clears the way for the defamation claim to proceed, although the merits of the case have not yet been argued at trial. Douglas Judson plans to request that this case be heard together with another client’s defamation claim against the same individual, which also relates to similar alleged statements about drag performances.
The defendant is representing himself in court.
Critics of drag performances intended for younger audiences have been known to treat gender diversity as inherently dangerous to children. These critics have increasingly used homophobic language to equate such performances to child luring.
The plaintiffs presented expert evidence to illustrate the history of drag and its connections to the LGBTQ community. They also provided evidence linking the history of the “groomer” rhetoric to real incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence.
Douglas Judson emphasized that as political leaders on the right have become more comfortable engaging in rhetoric about LGBTQ people, it has given license for citizens to do the same, leading to incidents of hate and violence. He expressed hope that litigation like this would send a strong message against such behavior.
This decision, he added, sends a “very positive signal” to LGBTQ individuals that “there are legal tools in place that can provide some measure of support and accountability when these things happen.”