Are SLAPP lawsuits suppressing public participation in Canada?
Fans of The Three Stooges know nothing shuts someone up faster than a powerful slap in the face. The legal technique known as a SLAPP lawsuit shuts people up pretty quick as well.
In November Calgary's mayor learned he was being sued for 6-million dollars for defamation by a home developer named Cal Wenzel. The suit alleges that Naheed Nenshi insinuated that Cal Wenzel broke election laws and runs a mafia-like organization. For his part, Mayor Nenshi says the lawsuit is an illegitimate SLAPP suit... SLAPP being an acronym for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.
Of course the plaintiffs in these cases say the lawsuits are perfectly legitimate... and it's difficult to test the validity of a suit until after it's been through the courts. Unfortunately, by that point it has likely already cost the defendant a pile of cash and a mountain of anxiety.
Richard Brooks believes he is the subject of a SLAAP suit. He's a forest campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. He and fellow campaigner are named in a lawsuit filed in Ontario last May by Resolute Forest Products. The lawsuit seeks $7 million and accuses both campaigners and Greenpeace Canada of defamation, malicious falsehood and intentional interference with economic relations. Richard Brooks was in Toronto.
For now, Quebec is the only jurisdiction in Canada with legislation to deter SLAPP or nuisance lawsuits. But Ontario may be the next.
Last spring Ontario Attorney General John Gerretsen introduced Bill 83 -- "The Protection of Public Participation Act of 2013." The bill has passed first reading. We reached John Gerretson in Kingston, Ontario.
Peter Jervis is a Toronto lawyer with Rochon Genova who has been involved in cases described as "SLAPP suits." And he's not convinced Ontario's proposed law is necessary or even legitimate.
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This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson and Catherine Kalbfleisch