Monday, October 09, 2006

Quebec Government Launches Study On Anti-Activist Defamation Suits

This is a follow-up to the August 20, 2006 Library Boy post entitled Quebec Environmental Pioneers Threatened With Being SLAPPed Into Oblivion.

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.

SLAPPs typically take the form of defamation lawsuits filed by corporations in an attempt to shut down criticism by non-governmental organizations or citizen lobby groups.

As described in the August 20, 2006 post, such a lawsuit has been launched against the Association québécoise contre la pollution atmosphérique, considered one of Canada's environmentalist pioneers. Since the lawsuit began, the organization has had its insurance policy cancelled and has been turned down by every other insurance company it approached. The association, which was instrumental in bringing about the Canada-US acid rain deal a decade ago, may have to close its doors.

The Quebec expert panel will be lead 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".

Background on SLAPPs (taken from the August 20, 2006 post):
  • SLAPPs: Getting Sued for Speaking Out: "George Pring and Penelope Canan [originated the term] after investigating a range of behaviour that led to legal action against activists, including peaceful demonstrators, seeking signatures for petitions, and even reporting corporate breaches of environmental regulation... They suggest that SLAPPs are not intended to reach the courts (where they typically lose) but are designed to silence criticism through legal intimidation. The goal is to limit public debate and to allow corporations to continue their activities without restriction."
  • Defamation and SLAPPs (Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, University of Ottawa): "The plaintiff's goal in a SLAPP is not to win the lawsuit, but is rather to silence a critic by instilling fear of large legal costs and the spectre of large damage awards. Despite their right to free speech, critics may be frightened into silence..."
  • Corporate Retaliation Against Consumers: The Status of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) in Canada (Public Interest Advocacy Centre): "The report describes a number of lawsuits or threats of a lawsuit in Canada that fit the definition of a SLAPP. This evidence suggests that SLAPPs are very much a Canadian phenomenon and have been initiated against consumers for public criticism of products or services as well as against individuals for advocating on environmental issues. The report briefly analyses the constitutional questions raised by SLAPPs and draws comparisons to the constitutional and judicial treatment of SLAPPs in the United States."
  • California Anti-SLAPP Project: "the Project is a public interest law firm that provides assistance to people on the receiving end of SLAPPs. About half the states in the United States have enacted anti-SLAPP legislation and the website provides links to case law and statutes for California and other states. As well, the site offers other resources, including a bibliography on the issue (updated to 2003) "
  • SLAPP's in Australia (Center for Media and Democracy Sourcewatch): "The following is the beginning of a list of Australian cases where civil litigation has transformed public debate into legal cases... The Center describes itself as a 'non-profit, public interest organization that strengthens participatory democracy by investigating and exposing public relations spin and propaganda, and by promoting media literacy and citizen journalism'. Its most well-known project is perhaps the quarterly PR Watch which investigates the public relations or 'spin' industry."


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posted by Michel-Adrien at 7:29 pm


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