Journalist: Emilie Bilodeau
Source Link: La Presse
March 7, 2021
A Brossard family victim of repeated attacks by a woman on the Internet tells about its fight to cleanse its reputation. “Scammer”, “pedophile”, and “child molester”: a Torontonian posted nearly 12,000 false comments targeting 150 people on the web. Its victims, some of whom live in Quebec, are struggling to make the publications disappear. This is a sign, according to an expert, that libel is the “black hole of the internet”.
Luc Groleau will remember September 30, 2018, all his life. That day, his wife Julia Groleau Babcock receives a call from her father who is in all his senses. He has just discovered that the Babcock family is being targeted by terrible lies on the internet.
Immediately, the Brossard resident types his spouse’s name and his own into the Google search engine. A publication claims his wife sold fake concert tickets. A text suggests that Mr. Groleau illegally billed $ 120,000 on a credit card for a consulting contract.
“I did not like reading these messages, but I told myself that no one would believe that”, says the one who receives us at his home, on the South Shore of Montreal.
Mr. Groleau then searches for the name of his 19-year-old son, Marc. “Everything changed at that time. “
Photos of Marc Groleau, taken from his social networks, appear among the first results. These are lined with the words, in large fluorescent red or green letters, “pedophile” and “child molester”. Luc Groleau is in shock.
“A few minutes earlier, it almost made me laugh. But this is serious. I didn’t know who the author of these messages was, or why he was doing it, but I knew the situation was serious. – Luc Groleau”
In less than a week, Luc Groleau and his brother-in-law Guy Babcock, who lives in England, found nearly 100 publications that attack a dozen members of their family.
Mr. Groleau contacted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who directed him to the Sûreté du Québec. She advises him to file a complaint with the Longueuil police. At the beginning of October 2018, the resident of Brossard, therefore, went to his police station with the numerous proofs that he had gathered in a document, coiled and laminated.
The agent at the reception tells him that there is nothing criminal in the attacks that the Babcocks suffer.
In an interview with La Presse, the Longueuil agglomeration police department confirms that Internet defamation can be criminal in some cases. However, he did not indicate why Mr. Groleau’s case had not led to an investigation.
Other family members file complaints in Toronto, Vancouver, and England, to no avail.
Nearly 12,000 attacks
Luc Groleau, a computer scientist, develops a robot to detect each new defamatory attack against his family. To date, he estimates that the anonymous author has published nearly 12,000 lies against 150 individuals on 120 to 130 sites.
Luc Groleau has installed a camera that films the entrance to his house because he fears that individuals will take false accusations of pedophilia seriously. “When someone is described as a pedophile, the perpetrator often gives his address. We only have the name of our city, but someone determined could easily find where we live, ”explains Mr. Groleau.
For Éric Lessard, investigator and entrepreneur in information security, online defamation is “the black hole of the internet”.
“The Criminal Code is not up to date for this type of crime. And once the allegations come out, good luck making them go away. – Éric Lessard, investigator and entrepreneur in information security”
He estimates that over the past 10 years, around 40 clients have used his services to remove false accusations from the internet. In some cases, he had to hire lawyers in the United States to threaten sites with lawsuits if they did not remove the defamatory comments. That is when you can identify the owner of the site, he says.
“Often they don’t respond or they plead for freedom of expression,” Lessard explains.
Removing a single comment from the web can cost a victim a minimum of $ 4,000 in legal fees, he argues. Some sites also charge a fee for removing comments even if they are false. “After a lot of time and a lot of money, we think the problem is gone. Then pouf! The comment was copied and pasted on another site, ”laments Mr. Lessard.
“I froze! “
The Babcock family wants to find out who is behind the false messages. One day in early October 2018, Guy Babcock came across a comment he had never seen about him before. This is accompanied by an avatar.
“I froze! I remained without moving to look at the photo for what seemed to me to be long minutes, ”he says, via phone, from his village in England.
Guy Babcock recognizes the author. This is Nadire Atas, a real estate broker who worked for her parents’ Remax franchise in Hamilton, Ontario in the early 1990s. She uses her photo of a real estate agent at the time.
It was not possible to reach Ms. Atas. His lawyer told La Presse that he had no way of contacting his client and that he was not allowed to answer journalists’ questions about her. In a New York Times article published at the end of January, Ms. Atas claimed to have left the real estate agency on her own.
In 1998, when Guy Babcock’s mother passed away, family members received a written letter containing degrading remarks about the corpse. At the same time, Mr. Babcock’s father’s neighbors also received a letter telling them that he was watching them through their windows while masturbating.
The Babcocks had suspected Nadire Atas of being the author of these missives, but they had never had proof of it.
“In the 1990s, she took revenge with letters. Since the 2000s, it has been with the Internet, ”says Mr. Groleau.
Guy Babcock wants to know more about the life of Nadire Atas. While searching the web, he came across a text by Toronto lawyer Christina Wallis. She defended the interests of a bank that seized two buildings belonging to Nadire Atas in the mid-2000s when the latter had stopped its mortgage payments.
In the years that followed, Ms. Atas initiated some 30 legal actions against her bank’s lawyers, against her own lawyers, and against their respective lawyers.
In 2015, Ms. Atas discovered complaints sites such as Ripoff, which allowed Internet users to anonymously denounce companies or individuals who had committed “reprehensible acts”.
Mrs. Wallis and his entourage are the first victims of such confidential complaint sites. She is described as a fraudster; his colleagues are portrayed as pedophiles. In October 2016, the court ordered Ms. Atas to cease her defamatory comments against the lawyers in Mrs. Wallis’ office.
Ms Atas does not stop its attacks. She intensifies them by turning to the families of her victims: their spouses, their children, their brothers, their sisters, and their parents. This is also when the lies about the Babcock family begin to appear on the web.
“I am a target, my law firm is a target, my brother is a target, my daughters are targets, their spouses are targets. – Gary Caplan, Toronto lawyer of 43, including Ms. Wallis and the Babcock family, defending themselves against Ms. Atar”
In 2017, Judge David L. Corbett added Nadire Atas to the list of vexatious litigants. She can no longer initiate new legal proceedings in Ontario without the permission of a judge. In January 2020, she wrote directly to a magistrate, which was prohibited for her as a quarrelsome litigator. She spent 74 days in prison, according to a judgment of the Superior Court of Ontario consulted by La Presse .
New online attacks are very rare but do not completely disappear during his time behind bars. Luc Groleau does not know whether Ms. Atas was able to access the internet in prison. “Some sites monitor similar sites and copy their content. It can also be explained this way, ”explains Mr. Groleau.
In the summer of 2018, Nadire Atas told the Court that she did not have a computer and refused to give her address. Gary Caplan decides to hire a private investigator to follow her.
Upon exiting the Toronto courthouse, Ms. Atas takes the subway, then gets on a bus that takes her to the University of Toronto. She walks into the library, where she sits in front of a computer for a few hours. As she exits, Ms. Atas takes another bus and heads to a homeless shelter. In the New York Times article, she denies being homeless.
After the article was published in the American media, a website contacted Gary Caplan to give him the IP address of deceptive comments aimed at his clients. The address in question was from a hotel where homeless women are staying during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was there that Nadire Atas was arrested, on February 9, and charged with defamatory libel and criminal harassment. Her phone and laptop were seized. She no longer has the right to use the internet.
Two weeks earlier, Judge David L. Corbett of the Ontario Superior Court ruled in favor of the forty clients of Gary Caplan in their civil case. “Nadire Atas has used the internet to spread vicious lies against those she holds grudges against, and their family members and associates,” he wrote in his judgment.
The Groleau-Babcock family won the first battle. But another fight awaits them: with HONR Network, a non-profit organization that supports victims of online harassment, Luc Groleau and Guy Babcock want to cleanse their reputation and that of their loved ones.
“The case of this family is really unique,” notes Alexandrea Merrell, director of Public Relations for the New York organization. A person’s compromising video can spread millions of times across the web. But our file with the family of Luc Groleau is different because it is the one with the most victims ”.
Despite the scale of the task, the organization is determined to have the defamatory publications erased. Until their last trace.