Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ontario Publishes Advisory Panel Report on Anti-Activist Lawsuits

The Ontario government this week made public the final report of an advisory panel on SLAPP suits (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation).

SLAPP suits typically take the form of abusive defamation lawsuits aimed at shutting down criticism by non-governmental organizations or citizen lobby groups. Targets of SLAPPs in various parts of North America have been local residents, neighbourhood associations, municipal governments, and peaceful protesters, who have been sued for reporting bylaw violations, speaking at municipal meetings or even for picketing and circulating petitions.

The panel recommends that Ontario adopt anti-SLAPP legislation to protect the freedom of the
public to participate in matters of public interest:
"[19] Advocates of legislation who made submissions to the Panel tended to agree on
its main characteristics:

• It should provide a speedy and cheap method to stop lawsuits if those suits were brought for an improper purpose, namely to harass or intimidate the defendants;
• It should put the onus on plaintiffs to prove that their lawsuits were not improper;
• It should help rebalance an inequality of financial resources between the parties, possibly by an order that the plaintiff should pay the defendants’ costs at the outset of the litigation;
• It should provide stronger legal protection for citizens engaged in public participation, such as through special defences;
• It should deter people from bringing such suits in the first place, by exposing plaintiffs, and possibly their directors and officers, and lawyers, to awards of damages or even punitive damages.
• Its principles should apply to the actions of administrative tribunals as well as to lawsuits in court. The recent application to the Ontario Municipal Board for a very large costs award in a planning matter was frequently cited as having had an intimidating effect well beyond that one case, even though the Board ultimately declined to award costs after a lengthy hearing."
Quebec and many American states already have anti-SLAPP laws.

Earlier Library Boy posts on the subject include:
  • Quebec Environmental Pioneers Threatened With Being SLAPPed Into Oblivion (August 20, 2006): "One of Quebec's oldest environmental organizations, the Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique (AQLPA) may soon have to close shop because of a multi-million dollar lawsuit from a scrap metal operator in what many observers believe is a SLAPP or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation."
  • Quebec Government Launches Study On Anti-Activist Defamation Suits (Otober 9, 2006): "On Friday, the Quebec government announced the creation of an expert panel to look into any possible measures to prevent Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPPs for short (...) The Quebec expert panel will be led by Roderick A. Macdonald, the F.R. Scott Professor of Constitutional and Public Law at McGill University. The panel is to look at the 'current rules in Quebec, Canada and the United States with regard to the balance between freedom of expression and the right to one's reputation (...)'. Should the panel conclude that the state of Quebec law does not allow for a proper balance, it is to propose avenues of improvement."
  • Quebec Expert Panel Says Protect People Against Abusive Defamation Suits (July 22, 2007): "It comes out very strongly against the potentially 'abusive' nature of SLAPPs and calls on the provincial government to adopt measures to discourage them as they 'aim essentially at forcing these individuals or these organizations to limit their public activity, or again, to self-censor their declarations by involving them in costly judicial proceedings they can generally not afford. It is basically a form of judicial intimidation' ... The panel suggests 3 possible avenues for government action: anti-SLAPP legislation; amendments to Quebec's Code of Civil Procedure to more strictly control 'abusive' defamation suits; legislation enshrining protection for public participation"

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 6:55 pm


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