A Fredericton hotel is considering launching a libel suit after an Internet web site described the hotel in an uncomplimentary manner.
If the Fredericton Inn follows through with legal action, the case may become the first Internet libel suit in Canada.
"There have been many threats of (Internet) libel in Canada", said David Jones, a computer science professor at McMaster University. "But often the threat of a lawsuit is used and people don't bother taking it to court."
The anti-inn web site, which is peppered with spelling errors, discusses the treatment of hotel staff, as well as food preparation, and maintenance at the well-respected, family-run inn.
The manager of the Fredericton Inn, John Waite, and inn employees declined to comment.
The author of the web site appears to have been employed by the Fredericton Inn in the early 1990s when most of the alleged incidents took place.
But the controversial web site affects more than just a small Maritime city inn.
"As an issue on the Internet", says Dr. Jones, who is also the president of Electronic Frontier Canada, a free speech organization, "it is a bit of a free speech concern."
"If it's true, it would be unfortunate if the person could be silenced for saying something", said Dr. Jones. "If it's true, it's not libel."
The author of the web site claims at the bottom of the page that "all the above statements are true to the best of my knowledge and I will and can sign an affidavit to that effect."
The author of the site, which is called "Welcome to Hell", uses icons to make the point. The author suggest that "the place should be (picture of flames) for everyone's sake."
Many of the Inn's neighbours say they can't believe that the material was posted on the Web.
Tony Mullins, a desk clerk at the nearby City Motel, says he has never heard anything negative about the Fredericton Inn. The City Motel, said Mr. Mullins, has only 56 units, whereas the Fredericton Inn has 199. The motel often recommends the nearby inn to their customers.
"I think that's a very sad thing for someone to do", he said. "That goes all over the world."
A manager of a hotel near the inn, who declined to give her name, says she is shocked by what information is allowed on the Web.
If I was in John Waite's shoes, I would be totally appalled", she said. When she saw the site last week, she said 151 people had already visited it. "They are a three-star property", she said. "To get to be a three-star, you have to achieve quite a bit of work and quite a bit of cleanliness."