Why we need anti-SLAPP legislation

Dear Editor,

It’s important to clear up misconceptions about SLAPP Suits, or Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation. Bill Phelps writes that the NDP and I want to deny a plaintiff’s right to a trial (Letters to the editor, Burnaby Now, June 5, 2015). Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Anti-SLAPP legislation is specifically designed to bring a speedy resolution to unmeritorious civil suits,and to protect rights to freedom of expression and assembly. At present, plaintiffs responsible for SLAPP

Suits — usually large transnational corporation — do not want a speedy trial but rather seek to drag court cases on ad infinitum in order to increase the monetary, time and emotional costs for defendants. SLAPP suits rarely go to trial as they are primarily meant to punish, intimidate and threaten those who oppose the plaintiff’s economic or political goals.

SLAPP suits are not just designed to attack the specifically named defendants. SLAPP suits are also used for their “chill factor” over the public at large. The mere mention of a multi-million dollar lawsuit often

deters many others from exercising their rights to free speech and assembly. In this way SLAPP suits attack the heart of Canadian democracy as we know it.

No one wants to deny the right of legitimate plaintiffs from having their day in court to remedy a wrong. That would undermine one of the main goals of the law and court system.

Anti-SLAPP legislation is designed to ensure that only legitimate lawsuits are permitted to proceed past a preliminary stage. In cases where a defendant can show it was expressing itself on a matter of public interest, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that its case has substantial merit.If the plaintiff cannot show substantial merit, the lawsuit will be thrown out.

Anti-SLAPP legislation is designed not to suppress Charter rights, but to protect them for those who do not have tens of thousands of dollars to defend themselves from large corporations who want to stop public protests.

In my case, I was denied a court trial to clear my name because the large transnational that brought charges in a $5.6 million civil suit against me used a legal procedure to “discontinue” the case. This has resulted in damage to my reputation as an advocate of non-violent protests and freedom of expression.

The discontinuance forced the transnational to pay a fraction of my legal fees, but leaves standing charges of conspiracy against me personally.

For the record, Quebec has anti-SLAPP legislation and there is a bill before the Ontario legislature. In the United States, almost half the states have anti-SLAPP legislation to protect Constitutional rights to

freedom of expression. B.C. had anti-SLAPP legislation in the early 1990s and was the first province in Canada to enact protections, before it was repealed by the newly elected Liberal government. It is time to bring anti-SLAPP legislation back to B.C.

Alan Dutton, Environmental Defense Working Group

www.stopslappsuits.ca

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