A last ditch lobbying effort by the Ontario Forest Industries Association threatens to derail important anti-SLAPP legislation at Queens Park. SLAPPs are Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. They are usually initiated by big business against people who speak out on an issue of public interest such as the location of housing developments, quarries or industrial facilities.
SLAPPs are used to tie up citizen activists in costly legal proceedings, diverting their time, energy and resources away from the issue they are concerned about. An expert panel chaired by Dean Mayo Moran of the University of Toronto’s Law School concluded in 2010 that “threats of lawsuits for speaking out on matters of public interest, combined with a number of actual lawsuits, deter significant numbers of people from participating in discussion on such matters.”
At the urging of municipalities, legal and civil society groups across Ontario, the Liberal government finally introduced anti- SLAPP legislation last year (NDP Leader Andrea Horwath tabled a private member’s Bill to tackle SLAPP suits in 2008)
Bill 83, the Protection of Public Participation Act, is long overdue. It will help protect some of the dozens of activists we work with across Ontario who have bravely stepped up to save their communities, left vulnerable by decades of government deregulation and budget cuts.
Maude Barlow wrote in support of the legislation last year “lawsuits without merit that are meant to bully people from exercising their rights must be stopped. There is no place for that type of conduct in our society.”
Contrary to what the Ontario Forest Industries Association says, Bill 83 will not prevent legitimate lawsuits from proceeding. It will allow the courts to dismiss a meritless lawsuit if its purpose is deemed to be the silencing of public debate.
Anti-SLAPP legislation in Ontario is supported all political parties, the Ontario Bar Association, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and the Centre for Law and Democracy.
Please take a moment to contact your MPP and tell them to pass Bill 83 without any further delay. A list of all MPPs and their contact information can be found here.