Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) are on the rise in Ontario. This trend was recognized by the Environment Commissioner of Ontario in his 2008-09 Annual Report and in concerns raised by various non-governmental organizations and municipalities across the province. It has also been acknowledged by the Ontario Government through an expert advisory panel that provided advice on how to design an effective anti-SLAPP law for the province (see the panel's October, 2010 report).
A petition to stop SLAPP suits has been created by West Coast Environmental Law and we ask that you sign up to support this effort to reclaim democratic rights and protect those who speak out against Big Oil and other corporations and government agencies. Will you join us and Defend BC?
I just ran across the following editorial and I'm posting it because it perfectly explains better than I can why we are fighting SLAPP suits and what's wrong with Canadian courts. A court recently found me responsible for a conspiracy to commit assault, interference with contracts, economic loss, trespass and other torts because of guilt by association. My name happened to be well-known because I was a spokesperson for the Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan (BROKE) and I built BROKE's website and managed the Burnaby Pipeline Watch Facebook page.
Short of a gun to the head, a greater threat to First Amendment expression can scarcely be imagined" (Judge Colabella in SLAPPS: Getting Sued for Speaking Out).
SLAPP suits - or Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation - are filed by large corporations and government agencies to silence individuals, associations, unions, non-profits and community-based groups. The main objective of a SLAPP suit is not to win, but to silence critics and deny them their Charter rights by forcing them to spend all their time and tens of thousands of dollars to defend themselves in court from meritless lawsuits. A second objective is to create a "chill factor." The fear of multi-million lawsuits tends to discourage most people and groups from protesting and speaking out. As such, SLAPP suits threaten public participation and thereby the entire democratic process. In essence, SLAPPS take political controversies and convert them to private law suits that favour large corporations over concerned citizens, non-profits, associations, unions and activists.
We are joining similar groups in Ontario, Quebec and in the United States specifically formed to fight SLAPP suits. These groups are unique because SLAPP suits typically cause groups to disintegrate because of the fear and pressure of facing huge legal fees and/or court costs. In our case, a core group was formed after Kinder Morgan sued five defendants for $5.6 million for protesting and speaking out about the destruction of Burnaby Mountain Conservation Land. Now we are fighting back to enact anti-SLAPP legislation since it seems unlikely that Charter rights will ever be applied to protect freedom of expression and assembly when it comes to public participation and demonstrations against transnationals.
We are dedicated to law reform for anti-SLAPP legislation to stop SLAPP suits and protect democratic rights. Through your support, our Stop SLAPP Suits Project is creating a provincial campaign to: 1) create a network to support those facing SLAPP suits, 2) documenting SLAPP suits before the courts, or dropped by a corporation or government agency, before being heard in court, and 3) building support for effective anti-SLAPP legislation. But we have significant expenses for legal services and need your help. Please join us and donate.
Defend freedom of expression and the right to protest.
Petition to stop SLAPP suits
A petition to stop SLAPP suits has been created by West Coast Environmental Law and we ask that you sign it to support this effort to reclaim democratic rights and protect those who speak out against Big Oil and other corporations and government agencies. Will you join us and Defend BC?
Everyone in Canada should have the protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to freely voice their concerns and to organize public demonstrations. But they don't. SLAPP suits undermine and subvert democratic rights and the democratic process. In fact, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not protect protestors and critics and the courts impose a huge burden to achieve any sort of justice and redress. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is part of the Canadian Constitution and while it is supposed to protect citizens against government it is not generally applied to disputes between private parties. Freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media or communications are guaranteed by Section 2(b) of the Charter and freedom of peaceful assembly by section 2(c). However, unlike the First Amendment to the US Constitution, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies only to protection from government intervention - not private disputes for alleged defamation and protests. Read more
Will the Courts Protect Me?
The answer is almost certainly no. The courts are biased in allowing cases to proceed to trial. To have a lawsuit dismissed, a target of a SLAPP suit must prove on the balance of probabilities that a suit was filed for a malicious purpose such as to silence a person on a matter of public concern or to stop them from demonstrating. To prove malicious intent against a large corporation with almost unlimited resources is difficult at best. In short, it is very difficult and expensive to have a SLAPP suit dismissed in Canada even if there is no credible proof that a lawsuit is an abuse of process, malicious and without factual basis. This is unlike the United States where over half the States have specific anti-SLAPP legislation and First Amendment rights to free speech that provide rules for the better protection of the right to protest and speak out against government agencies and corporations. Read more
Thanks to all our supporters. In particular, thanks to West Coast Environmental Law for two grants to develop recommendations for effective anti-SLAPP suit legislation, Dr. Jane Shin, MLA Burnaby-Lougheed for continuing to push for anti-SLAPP legislation and to students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University for continued support. Click here to read statements of support to reclaim democratic rights.
Recommendations for Anti-SLAPP Legislation with Appendices. Environmental Defense Working Group (2015).
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This site provides no legal advice, and no representation is made as to the completeness or accuracy of the information presented. Links to news, commentary, and guest blog posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Stop SLAPP Suit Project.