Former Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke is suing 18 internet commenters for character assassination in connection with a rumor about Hazel Mae that he says is a lie.
Various websites, Twitter postings, and other social media outlets had put forth the theory that Burke was fired by Toronto because he hooked up with sportscaster Hazel Mae and got her pregnant. In his lawsuit, Burke contends those allegations are false and defamatory. Hazel Mae works for Rogers Sportsnet; prior to that she anchored on NESN and then the MLB Network.
Burke’s lawsuit, which was filed in British Columbia Supreme Court, contends that the defamatory comments on the internet about the Hazel Mae relationship (or more accurately, non-relationship) were made with the knowledge that they were false or with reckless disregard to the truth. Burk is seeking to recover a wide range of money damages as well as an injunction against an further defamatory postings.
The former NHL executive’s legal team doesn’t know the actual identities of the named “John Doe” defendants so the legal papers only identifies them for now by their screen names as placeholders. If the lawsuit continues into the discovery phase, Burke may be able to obtain their actual identities.
Burke’s lawyer ad this to say about the legal action against the Internet posters: “A lot of people think that they can with impunity say whatever outrageous things on the Internet and nobody’s ever going to be able to find them or hold them accountable. Brian is going to hold them accountable … Brian has decided that it is time to stop people who post comments on the Internet from thinking they can fabricate wild stories with impunity.”
Burke currently works as a scout for the Anaheim Ducks.
Presumably Canadian law is similar to that of the US where it is very difficult for someone considered a public figure (i.e., a celebrity) to recover damages for defamation unless there is a finding of “actual malice” on the part of the person or organization that published the stories in question. Burke’s lawsuit does contain an “actual and express malice” claim.
Do you think Burke’s lawsuit holds water or is he on thin ice in going ofter anonymous internet posters for allegedly lying about him?