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‘Pure nightmare’: Montreal-based musician wins $1.5 million in defamation lawsuit



‘Pure nightmare’: Montreal-based musician wins .5 million in defamation lawsuit

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

Published Tuesday, March 12, 2024 2:43PM EDT

Last Updated Tuesday, March 12, 2024 2:43PM EDT

CALGARY – A Quebec-based electronic music artist hopes to get his career and life back on track after triumphing in an Alberta defamation lawsuit tied to social media posts accusing him of being a sexual predator.

“It was terrible. The whole thing was like pure nightmare and hell,” Frederik Durand said in an interview from Montreal.

“I felt hopeless. It was the worst feeling ever.”

The 35-year-old performer, who performs under the name Snails, said the Instagram reposts from California resident Michaela Higgins broadsided his career and dropped his earnings off a cliff. Durand and Higgins both say they have never met.

Durand said he had been performing between 125 and 150 nights a year at dance clubs across North America with a musical style described as “vomitstep” – a mix of guttural bass gurgles, booming, low-frequency bass and synthesizers.

That all changed in early 2020, he said, when an Instagram account, “↕evidenceagainstsnails,” began reposting allegations of serious sexual impropriety against him.

“All the material was aimed at branding Mr. Durand a criminal and sexual predator who engaged in sexual misconduct ranging from non-consensual intercourse to unwanted advances, including towards minors,” Edmonton Court of King’s Bench Justice Nicholas Devlin wrote in a Feb. 26 judgment.

Devlin noted when one alleged victim publicly backed Durand to say the accusation was false, she herself was attacked online.

“An obvious collateral purpose of the Instagram account was to ‘cancel’ Mr. Durand, frequently tagging (the posts to alert) his agent, producers and venues where he was to perform,” added Devlin.

Durand’s shows in Alberta indeed ended, which led to the case being handled in Edmonton.

Durand said he performed about 15 shows in 2023 and his income dropped from close to $3 million in 2018 to a loss of $138,000 in 2022.

He was initially at a loss on how to fight back.

“When it started it was just pure confusion,” he said. “You read stuff about yourself and you’re like, ‘That literally never happened. That’s not the right side of the story.”’

Devlin noted Durand kept voluminous electronic data records to prove his case while Higgins, while protesting having the matter heard in Alberta, otherwise did not offer a defence.

According to the judgment, Higgins said she posted to raise awareness and to “protect vulnerable women and girls” in the DJ industry. But the judge said reposting defamation is still defamation.

“All the material posted on the Instagram account was second or third-hand, consisting of reposts, which themselves sometimes linked material from elsewhere on social media,” wrote Devlin.

“I have no difficulty finding as a fact that the purpose, intention, and effect of the Instagram Account was to brand Mr. Durand a creep and a criminal. This easily makes out prima facie defamation.”

Devlin awarded Durand $1.5 million and said his ruling should not be seen to be any reflection on the Me Too movement, which gained speed in 2017 as a torrent of sexual impropriety allegations were levelled against powerful men in entertainment, media, business and other arenas.

“The Me Too movement has served a salutary and long overdue purpose in bringing the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment to the forefront of public attention,” Devlin said.

Durand’s Edmonton-based lawyer, Ellery Lew, said justice was served.

“This to me was the right result in this case, one hundred per cent. Based on what I was able to see … objectively from the record (Durand) provided me. It was persuasive that he was essentially victimized,” said Lew in an interview.

He said there are probably only a handful of internet defamation cases in Canada, but said it’s likely the tip of the iceberg.

“This is no different than literally the witch trials of old or what we used to hear about in authoritarian regimes where you falsely accuse your neighbour of something just because you have a personal vendetta.”

The court also imposed a permanent injunction against Higgins preventing her from publishing any statement suggesting that Durand has committed sexual assault, physical assault or has behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner.

On the day of the judgment, Higgins reiterated on Instagram it was all about keeping women safe, adding she couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer to fight the case.

“Now I have a … judgment against me in Canada which luckily does not affect me because it’s in a different country,” she added. She concluded the post by flashing her middle finger.

And while computer data turned Durand’s life upside down, he also realizes it helped him put it right side up.

“I never throw away a computer my entire life, never a phone, nothing. I have messages from the first time I ever texted,” he said.

“That was the thing that saved my life.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 12, 2024.

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