The British Columbia Supreme Court recently granted an order permitting substituted service on anonymous users of several Internet-based forums in a defamation action. In Burke v. John Doe, 2013 BCSC 964, the plaintiff, Brian Burke, sued eighteen individuals for defamation for statements made in on-line posts. Burke sought to serve seven of those defendants with the Notice of Claim by sending a private message on message boards used by the defendants.

The court agreed that personal service of the Notice of Claim was impractical. Although it might be possible to obtain an order requiring the operators of the message boards to provide subscription information, this was likely only to reveal the e-mail address given by the user when the user created the account. Not only would this be time-consuming and expensive, the e-mail address obtained from the message board provider might not be active.

However, each of the message boards provided a private message function where one user could send a direct message to another user. The evidence suggested that the defendants were either still active or were recently active on the message boards. The court concluded:

[21] In my view, it is reasonably likely, or probable, that notice of the proceedings will come to the attention of the Message Board Defendants by the proposed method. Mr. Brandt’s affidavit establishes that, according to their profiles on the message boards, the Message Board Defendants regularly log into the very accounts on which they posted the allegedly defamatory statements and use message boards and the Internet as a regular means of communication. They will be notified that they have received a personal message upon logging into their account in an online forum in which they have chosen to participate.