Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs) are lawsuits that some organizations use to suppress or punish their opponents, including public interest groups that fight proposed developments.[i] These suits used to be rare in Canada, but are now an increasing concern.[ii] They can take the form of defamation claims, or even claims for legal costs (as in the Big Bay Point dispute). On the other hand, SLAPPs can be hard to distinguish from genuine, legitimate claims.
In February, more than 60 public interest organizations wrote to Premier McGuinty, requesting a ban on SLAPPs.[iii],[iv] On May 28, the Ontario government responded by establishing an advisory panel to recommend legislation that would protect the public’s democratic rights from improper lawsuits.[v]
The panel will be chaired by Mayo Moran, the charismatic dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto and will also include Brian McLeod Rogers and Peter Downard.[vi] Their task is to consult with the public on issue such as:[vii]
1. How to quickly recognize a SLAPP suit;
2. Appropriate remedies for SLAPP suits;
3. Appropriate limits to the protection of anti-SLAPP legislation;
4. Methods to prevent abuse of anti-SLAPP legislation.
The panel is expected to report by September 30, 2010.
If Ontario enacts an anti-SLAPP Act, it will be the second Canadian province to do so. Quebec passed similar legislation in June 2009. Nearly half of American states already have anti-SLAPP statutes.[viii]
[i] Ministry of the Attorney General. Backgrounder. Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation
[ii] Environmental Defence. (May 28, 2010). Environmental Groups Applaud Province’s Establishment of Expert Panel to Protect Citizens from Bullying Lawsuits
[iii] Daryn Caister. The Green Majority. Environmental Defence champions “anti-SLAPP” legislation in petition to Ontario’s premier
[iv] Environmental Defence. (February 12, 2010). More than 60 Ontario Groups Call for Protection From Lawsuits Designed to Muzzle
[v] Environmental Defence. (May 28, 2010). Environmental Groups Applaud Province’s Establishment of Expert Panel to Protect Citizens from Bullying Lawsuits
[vii] Ministry of the Attorney General. (May 28, 2010). News. Protecting Freedom of Expression in Public Debate: McGuinty Government Seeks Advice on Legislation
[viii] Ministry of the Attorney General. (May 28, 2010). News. Protecting Freedom of Expression in Public Debate: McGuinty Government Seeks Advice on Legislation