A former candidate in the riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston has been ordered to pay nearly $100,000 in a defamation lawsuit. Chelsea Hillier, who has run unsuccessfully twice, first as a federal candidate in Elgin-Middlesex-London in 2021 and then in Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston as a candidate in the 2022 provincial election, was ordered to pay $85,000 in damages and $12,485 in court costs to Esther Post, an English instructor at Carleton University, for several social media posts which the Ontario Superior Court Of Justice concluded were defamatory. The court case was heard on Jun. 21, 2022 by Justice Sally Gomery of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
Hillier’s statements about Post started in November 2021, according to court documents, and included, among other things, “tweets [that] stated that Ms. Post, an English instructor at Carleton University, is a sexual predator who has drugged her students.”
In the lawsuit, Ms. Post said that Ms. Hillier’s tweets have damaged her reputation and her mental health and have exposed her to harassment and humiliation.
Hillier did not provide a defence to the lawsuit, court documents state, so Ms. Post moved for default judgment.
According to the court documents released on Jun. 24, 2022, Hillier and Post first met in 2008, when Hillier took two undergraduate English courses taught by Post, who was then a graduate student. “They became friends the following year,” court documents state, and became “so close that, in 2014, Ms. Hillier was a member of Ms. Post’s wedding party.”
According to court documents, the friendship deteriorated in 2020 over political differences. “Both women use Twitter to express political views. In early November 2021, Ms. Post retweeted a thread that criticized anti-vaccine protests at hospitals and other tactics endorsed by Ms. Hillier and her father. In reaction, on Nov. 11, 2021, Ms. Hillier tweeted: ‘When she secretly dated her student at carleton university we said nothing. But since she’s on a spree i may as well go all in’” [sic]. According to court documents, Hillier then sent a series of tweets that featured wedding photos of Post and her bridal attendants, including Hillier, and which described Ms. Post as a “violent white nationalist.”
“Ms. Hillier’s tweets were automatically sent to everyone who followed her Twitter account. Her account on November 11, 2021, @chelshillier, had over 9,300 followers. After Ms. Post reported the tweets, this account was indefinitely suspended for violating Twitter’s rules against targeted abuse and harassment. A week later, Ms. Hillier began posting from a new account, @chealseahillier6. This account initially had over 1,500 followers,” the court decision stated.
“Using this new account, between November 18 and 21, 2021, Ms. Hillier posted other tweets in which she described Ms. Post as a predator, a ‘gaslighter,’ and an abuser. [Ms. Hillier] repeatedly accused [Ms. Post] of having slept with her students and having ‘fed them Ativan in parking lots.’ Ms. Hillier threatened to contact Carleton University with her allegations and included its Twitter account on at least one occasion. Some of her tweets also tagged her father Randy Hillier’s account. Both Mr. Hillier’s account and the university’s account had roughly 50,000 followers at the time,” Judge Gomery stated in the court decision.
“Ms. Hillier used a photo of Ms. Post’s wedding party as her profile picture on this new account and Ms. Post’s Twitter handle in her profile description. Like her first account, this one was public. This meant that anyone searching for Ms. Post’s name (or in fact anyone who stumbled upon Ms. Hillier’s account for any other reason) would see the tweets,” Judge Gomery said. “Other Twitter users responded to Ms. Hillier’s tweets about Ms. Post. They compared Ms. Post to Mary Kay Letourneau or Amber Heard; expressed shock that Carleton University ‘would hire such a disgusting professor’; called for her termination or a criminal investigation; and implied that she was sexually promiscuous.”
According to court documents, Post sent a notice of libel to Hillier on Dec. 7, 2021. Hillier acknowledged receipt of the notice by email but announced, via her Twitter feed, that she had “no intention of removing her tweets.”
Post then began her lawsuit on Dec. 23, 2021. Hillier was served with the statement of claim on Jan. 9, 2022 and, when she did not serve a statement of defence, was noted in default. While unresponsive to the lawsuit, she did, however, “continue to mention the lawsuit in many subsequent tweets,” court documents show. “She and other Twitter users mocked Ms. Post for taking legal proceedings, saying she was greedy, mentally ill, and unable to care for her children. Ms. Hillier derided Ms. Post for setting up a GoFundMe account to raise money for her legal fees, and suggested the lawsuit was pointless because she had no assets against which a judgment could be executed,” the court decision stated.
“For the reasons that follow, judgment is granted,” Justice Sally Gomery stated in her decision. “First, the words used by Ms. Hillier are obviously defamatory. It is hard to conceive of a more damaging accusation, for a teacher, than an allegation that she is a sexual predator who drugs her students. If believed, Ms. Hillier’s statements would seriously damage Ms. Post’s reputation in the eyes of her employer, her students, and the world at large. Had Ms. Post done what Ms. Hillier said she had, she could have been criminally charged and she would have lost her job. Based on the responses to Ms. Hillier’s tweets, the statements did in fact cause others to think ill of Ms. Post. They called for her to be fired and criminally investigated.”
“Second, Ms. Hillier’s words unmistakably referred to Ms. Post,” Judge Gomery said. “They referred to her by name, disclosed her profession, her employer, and her Twitter handle, and attached photos of her. In her affidavit, Ms. Post says that she was harassed by Twitter users who identified her based on Ms. Hillier’s tweets.”
“Third,” Judge Gomery continued, “Ms. Hillier’s transmission of her statements via tweets constituted publication. They were seen, at a minimum, by thousands of followers of her accounts. Her account was widely accessible and, because of the way it was set up, it would be seen by anyone who did a search for Ms. Post’s name. Ms. Hillier also used the #MeToo hashtag in some of the tweets, which made it more likely that they would show up in search results. Her tagging of some tweets with her father’s account and Carleton University’s Twitter handle also expanded their reach.”
Judge Gomery cited Hillier’s refusal to retract any statements as an aggravating factor in the court case. “Ms. Hillier has refused to publish any retraction or apology. She has instead doubled down on her publication of defamatory statements about Ms. Post since being served with the notice of libel. She has displayed contempt not only for Ms. Post, but for the idea that she is obliged to respect the norms of civilized behaviour observed by other members of society,” Judge Gomery said.
“Finally, I find that, in defaming Ms. Post, Ms. Hillier has acted out of malice, and that this is an aggravating factor… Based on the evidence in this case, Ms. Hillier’s tweet campaign against Ms. Post was motivated by malice. As she stated in one of the first tweets she posted on November 11, 2021: ‘Can’t take the heat? Get out. You want to f— with my family? I will f— with yours.’ The content of her tweets, and her efforts to broadcast them as widely as possible, show that she wanted to punish Ms. Post for her criticisms of [Ms. Hillier’s] father and bully her into silence. Had she sincerely believed that Ms. Post had behaved unethically or criminally, she could have filed a complaint with the police or with her employer, setting out the specific information and evidence to support her allegations. Instead, she tweeted extremely serious, but completely unsubstantiated, accusations. [Ms. Hillier’s] use of the ‘#MeToo’ hashtag on some posts give the impression that she herself was victimized by [Ms. Post]. There is again no evidence of this.”
In addition to the monetary penalties, Ms. Hillier was also ordered to post a retraction for 60 days on her Twitter account and “to remove any and all tweets in relation to Ms. Post from her Twitter account and refrain from ever again communicating or causing to be communicated, on any social media platform or by any other means, any false, defamatory, or otherwise disparaging information in regard to Ms. Post.”