B.C. legislature unanimously passes anti-SLAPP legislation

B.C. lawmakers voted unanimously Friday to pass legislation meant to safeguard people from strategic lawsuits against public participation, SLAPP for short, by helping judges toss out legal actions targeting people who speak out on matters of public interest.

Attorney General David Eby says legislation will protect free expression

Attorney General David Eby says the new law will ensure the protection of free public debate. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

B.C. lawmakers voted unanimously Friday to pass legislation meant to safeguard people from strategic lawsuits against public participation, SLAPP for short, by helping judges toss out legal actions targeting people who speak out on matters of public interest.

Attorney General David Eby said the Protection of Public Participation Act will protect free expression by preventing wealthy individuals and large companies from using their superior resources to sue journalists, activists or other critics for the purposes of intimidating or silencing them.

"In this rough and tumble public debate on the issues of the day we don't want people to feel like they have to be too dainty about it, because they're worried they're going to get sued," Eby told CBC Radio's On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko. 

"We want people to be out there engaging in the marketplace of ideas and having a robust debate."

Striking a balance

Eby said the legislation, which is modelled on similar laws in Ontario and Quebec, attempts to strike a balance between the interest individuals and companies have in protecting their reputation against false claims with critics' right to free speech.

It allows defendants to ask courts to dismiss lawsuits on the grounds they harm the defendant's ability to speak freely on a matter of public interest.

Judges can toss out a lawsuit if they believe the public interest in protecting the defendant's right to freedom of expression outweighs the harm the plaintiff will suffer as a result of that speech.

"We want to protect the interest of the journalist who's breaking that big story, of the community member who's going out to speak out about a problem that they're seeing in their community, of the activist who's saying something about the pollution that's coming from the factory," said Eby.

Royal assent

The NDP implemented anti-SLAPP legislation during its final year in power the last time it formed government, only for it to be removed shortly after the B.C. Liberals took office in 2001.

The anti-SLAPP bill will become law after it receives royal assent, which Eby said will most likely happen next week.

Eby said the new law applies from the date it was first introduced into the legislature last year.

Listen to the full interview here:

B.C. lawmakers voted unanimously Friday to pass legislation meant to safeguard people from strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPP suits. David Eby joins Gloria Macarenko to discuss how the legislation is meant to protect free expression. 8:27

with files from CBC Radio's On The Coast

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