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West Coast Environmental Law Awards Second Grant to EDWG

News Release
May 21, 2015

As part of a law reform project to research, draft and conduct public education on the problem of SLAPP suits, West Coast Environmental Law has awarded the Environmental Defense Working Group (EDWG), based in Burnaby, B.C., a second grant.

Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation, or SLAPP suits, are lawsuits generally brought by large corporations or government agencies to silence individuals and community-based groups. “The term SLAPP suit is used in part to describe a case where the goal of the party bringing the lawsuit is generally not to win, but to silence critics and deny them their Charter rights.” As such, SLAPP suits threaten public participation and thereby the democratic process.

The power of a SLAPP comes from the use of the court system to intimidate individuals, communities, unions and civic groups and to exhaust their often very limited resources. It is not the strength of the lawsuit itself, but the threat of onerous and expensive legal proceedings that makes SLAPPs so harmfully effective. SLAPP suits often require enormous resources to defend against and can exhaust the resources of any ordinary defendant. Activities that attract SLAPPs may include citizens reporting of environmental violations, filing complaints with government agencies, contacting the media, speaking at public meetings, participating at hearings before administrative tribunals or engaging in public campaigns.

Alan Dutton is responsible for administering the WCEL grant and building the provincial campaign in collaboration with Neil Chantler of the Vancouver based Chantler &Co. Alan was one five recently named in a Kinder Morgan lawsuit for $5.6 million. As Alan Dutton notes, the “effect of a SLAPP suit is to silence critics, deny freedom of speech and assembly and other Charter rights. SLAPP suits generally lack merit and are not likely to succeed in court. In response, our law reform project is aimed at drafting a made-in-BC solution to the problem of SLAPP suits, or any unmeritorious lawsuits that have the effect of stifling free expression and lawful collective action. The project will help bring together experts in the field, as well as engage in other public education work.

Neil Chantler will be leading the research. He will focus on the issue of SLAPP suits in BC, including the prevalence, circumstances and outcomes of such suits, research into anti-SLAPP legislation, and the drafting of legislation that would be suitable in BC. His research has taken him to Ontario and Quebec, several US states, and other countries abroad. He is compiling a growing list of Canadian cases that meet the typical SLAPP criteria and comparing the various Acts from outside BC with the Provinceʼs short-lived Protection of Public Participation Act and developing arguments for amendments to that Act that might better accomplish the purpose of anti-SLAPP legislation. According to Neil Chantler: “Our goal will be to draft a made-in-BC solution to the problem of SLAPP suits, or any unmeritorious lawsuits that have the effect of stifling free expression and lawful collective action… [W]e plan to organize a public meeting with various experts in the area, as well as engage in other public education work.”

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