Tuesday, June 18, 2013TORONTO (June 18, 2013) - Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) welcomes the Ontario government’s decision to strengthen protection from legal harassment for citizens who voice controversial opinions on public issues. The Protection of Public Participation Act, introduced last week by Attorney-General John Gerretsen, would make Ontario the second Canadian province with legislation to deter corporations and others with deep pockets from draining their critics’ resources by filing meritless legal claims. Quebec has had a similar law since 2009. Such laws are known as anti-SLAPP legislation because they seek to restrict so-called Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation – court actions designed to hamper or deter defendants from campaigning on vital issues in the public interest. For example, in 2009 developer Kimvar Enterprises asked the Ontario Municipal Board to order that its legal costs, pegged at $3.2 million, be paid by a residents’ group that had opposed its Big Bay Point resort project on Lake Simcoe. (Citing the need to avoid a chilling effect, the OMB denied the request). Responding to growing criticism of SLAPP suits, the Ontario government in 2010 asked an advisory panel to recommend measures to curb the practice. The law introduced last week builds on the report of the panel, chaired by Dean Mayo Moran of the University of Toronto Law School and which includes lawyers Brian MacLeod Rogers and Peter Downard. Under the new law, a judge would be required to hear a defendant’s motion to dismiss a SLAPP suit within 60 days. A SLAPP plaintiff whose lawsuit is dismissed could be ordered to pay defendants’ legal costs and would be liable for damages if a judge found the suit was launched in bad faith or for an improper purpose. CJFE views anti-SLAPP legislation as an essential tool for Canadians seeking to defend the free-expression rights contained in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Ontario Act will reduce the fear of expensive litigation for vulnerable groups. It explicitly acknowledges both the vital interest of Ontarians in speaking out about issues of public concern and the danger of letting powerful interests use the courts to shackle civic discussion. “This gives us another important tool to help fight unmeritorious legal actions initiated for ulterior motives, and will hopefully discourage the bringing of such lawsuits” said CJFE Canadian Issues Chair and lawyer Peter Jacobsen. “There are now two provinces with Anti-SLAPP legislation – we look forward to the day when all Canadians enjoy similar protection.”
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