A series of Judges, law professors and prominent lawyers have called upon the government to pass anti-SLAPP legislation. Two former Supreme Court justices, two former Attorneys General, and the Dean of UBC law school have signed on to the letter, among many others.
SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” and describes a strategy where powerful corporations and individuals sue citizens for criticizing them publically. These generally involve defamation lawsuits which may have little chance of succeeding in court, but can greatly burden the other side with the legal costs of defending themselves. In effect, the threat of even a baseless lawsuit from a well-funded opponent can deter people and community organizations from speaking out on matters of public interest, chilling their freedom of expression.
B.C. briefly had legislation to deal with this in 2001, but it was repealed after a change in government. Now, the signatories to this letter are calling upon B.C. to follow Ontario’s example in crafting a law. Ontario passed anti-SLAPP legislation in 2014 (at s 137.1). It has been summarized before on this blog, but in short: it allows a defendant to make a motion to dismiss the claim (and get compensated for legal costs) unless the plaintiff can show that they have a valid case that is in the public interest. The letter writers call upon the government to follow this basic model as a way of balancing the public interest in debate and expression against the need to allow legitimate cases to go forward.
Notably, the current BC NDP government committed to introducing such a law in their election platform (at page 87). However, it remains to be seen whether the government will produce one.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.