Over 40 Groups Agree BC Needs an Anti-SLAPP Law
Leading public interest advocates welcome BC’s commitment to anti-SLAPP law
Monday, March 5, 2018
VANCOUVER, BC, Coast Salish Territories – Today, 45 leading organizations and public interest advocates from a broad range of sectors published an open letter welcoming the BC Attorney General’s commitment to enact legislation to protect British Columbians from strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPP suits. A SLAPP suit refers to a lawsuit filed against individuals or organizations participating in public debate as a means of silencing them.
“We support the Attorney General’s commitment to bringing in anti-SLAPP legislation for BC,” said Meghan McDermott, Staff Counsel at the BC Civil Liberties Association. “Strong protections for free speech and public participation are an essential part of our democracy, and British Columbians have been paying the price for government inaction in the face of SLAPP suits for far too long.”
A diverse range of experts agree that British Columbians need legal protection from abusive SLAPP suits. Today’s open letter echoes another recent call for BC anti-SLAPP legislation from a group of judicial luminaries, including former NDP premier and attorney general Ujjal Dosanjh, former Liberal attorney general Wally Oppal and former Supreme Court justices Frank Iacobucci and Ian Binnie. This initial letter from high-profile judges and legal experts prompted Attorney General David Eby to reiterate commitments to enact such legislation in BC.
“I want to thank the Attorney General for supporting anti-SLAPP legislation to protect our rights as Canadians,” said Alan Dutton, member of Burnaby Pipeline Watch. “I was sued for $5.6 million by a transnational corporation based on a statement I made to a local newspaper and for a Facebook page that carried information about protests on Burnaby Mountain. We urgently need anti-SLAPP legislation to defend freedom of expression and the right of ordinary folks to dissent.”
SLAPP suits may take many different forms – such as defamation, nuisance, trespass, or other torts – but they are generally understood to be a tactic used by powerful actors to silence and intimidate their critics. Without anti-SLAPP legislation, people and organizations who speak out about public issues or exercise their right to public participation risk facing costly lawsuits.
“Will I get sued if I speak up? No one should be afraid to voice their opinions on matters of public interest,” said author and artist Franke James. “But the reality is, there’s a chill in the air. Financially-powerful organizations are using litigation to bully people into silence. Personally, I have been threatened with lawsuits, and even though they never got to court I incurred tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs to defend my right to speak up on issues related to health care and human rights for people with disabilities. Effective anti-SLAPP legislation in BC will help deter SLAPP suits and strengthen public debate in our province.”
Many jurisdictions already have legislation to protect public participation and free speech, from Australia to the United States. In Canada, both Quebec and Ontario have adopted anti-SLAPP legislation, making British Columbia the most populous province without these protections.
“SLAPP suits hurt all of us,” said Erica Stahl, Staff Lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law Association. “The diversity of the signatories to this open letter demonstrates that. We are very pleased that the government is committed to protecting British Columbians from these abusive lawsuits, and we look forward to working with the government to develop anti-SLAPP legislation that works for BC’s unique context.”
To view the open letter and signatories, see below or click here.
For more information, please contact:
Erica Stahl | Staff Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law Association
604-684-7378 ext. 229, firstname.lastname@example.org
Meghan McDermott | Staff Counsel, BC Civil Liberties Association
Alan Dutton | Member, Burnaby Pipeline Watch
Franke James | Author/Artist
Strong Environmental Laws
Environmental Legal Aid
EDRF Legal Aid Fund
CAMPAIGN UPDATE: May 15, 2018
Great news for free expression in BC. Attorney General David Eby announced proposed anti-SLAPP legislation:
British Columbians’ right to freely participate in debating matters of public interest – without fear of facing unfair litigation and associated costs – will be better protected under proposed legislation introduced today.
The Protection of Public Participation Act will safeguard people from strategic lawsuits against public participation (often referred to as SLAPPs) that limit or prevent the expression of individuals’ or groups’ points of view on matters of public interest.
“Lawsuits that serve to silence and financially exhaust those exercising their right of expression exploit our legal system and only serve those with significantly deeper pockets,” said David Eby, Attorney General. “We’re committed to ensuring a robust, healthy democracy that defends British Columbians’ fundamental rights – in part, by helping people who want and deserve the freedom to peacefully engage in public debate without fear of unreasonable and financially ruinous legal action against them.”
The act strives to improve access to justice and protect freedom of expression, while allowing for legitimate claims that involve real harm.
A key feature is an expedited process by which a defendant may apply to the court to dismiss a lawsuit on the basis that it impinges on the defendant’s ability to speak freely on a matter of public interest. If the court so determined, it would dismiss the lawsuit, unless the plaintiff could satisfy the court that the harm the plaintiff likely would suffer as a result of that free speech would outweigh the public interest in protecting it.
The act would further protect public participation by allowing the court to fully indemnify defendants for costs.
“British Columbians should have the right to participate freely in public debates without fear of retribution,” said Wally Oppal, OBC, QC, former attorney general of British Columbia and former justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia. “The legal system is vulnerable to so-called SLAPP lawsuits that are intended solely to censor public opinion, to intimidate people and to silence critics. SLAPP lawsuits strategically, and without merit, prevent free discussion on matters of public interest. I welcome today’s legislation.”
In 2001, British Columbia was the first jurisdiction in Canada to enact legislation of this kind, but it was subsequently repealed the same year. The proposed act is based on the Uniform Protection of Public Participation Act, adopted by the Uniform Law Conference of Canada in 2017, which, in turn, is closely based on Ontario’s related legislation.