NDP renews calls for anti-SLAPP suit law

Pipeline protester Alan Dutton pushing for legal change

Kinder Morgan’s civil suit against five Burnaby Mountain protesters has inspired one of the defendants to push back with renewed calls for anti-SLAPP suit legislation in B.C., and the NDP is championing that cause with a new private members’ bill.

Alan Dutton, a former member of Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion, is at the heart of a new group calling for provincial legislation against frivolous lawsuits meant to silence opponents.

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“SLAPP suits are a direct threat to democratic process,” Dutton told the NOW. “SLAPP suits attack the very foundation of our society. They are designed to stop people from speaking out; they are designed to stop people from assembling.”

“SLAPP” stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” which generally refers to cases where the plaintiffs, often corporations, are trying to intimidate and silence opponents while draining their financial resources through the courts. According to Dutton, a retired academic, Burnaby-Lougheed MLA Jane Shin approached him about SLAPP suits. Shin then took the issue back to her caucus, and on Tuesday, Nanaimo MLA Leonard Krog tabled the private members’ bill in Victoria.

Krog’s bill would allow SLAPP suit defendants to bring forward a motion to have their case dismissed in court. Since the Liberals hold the majority of seats in Victoria, there’s very little chance of the private members’ bill passing.

In 2001, the NDP brought in anti-SLAPP suit legislation, but it only lasted about five months before the Liberals secured a landslide majority in the provincial election and repealed it.

Dutton characterized his case with Kinder Morgan as a SLAPP suit. He was one of five protesters named in Kinder Morgan’s multimillion-dollar civil suit, which the company filed in order to secure an injunction against protesters on Burnaby Mountain.

“I’ve just been through this horrendous, horrendous case, which took almost four months to get through, and it still isn’t resolved,” Dutton said.

In January, Kinder Morgan filed for “unilateral discontinuance,” effectively dropping the case against the Burnaby Mountain Five. Dutton still had tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, although much of it was covered through fundraising.

“I still have statements made about me and my character on the record, and they have not been settled,” said Dutton. “I didn’t want (the case) discontinued. I wanted it to stay active so I could appeal.”

Dutton still wants to sue Kinder Morgan for defamation. His refusal to drop the issue has led to a rift with BROKE and his departure from the group. He’s since formed the Environmental Defense Working Group, which has landed two grants from West Coast Environmental Law to further the anti-SLAPP suit cause.

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