TORONTO, June 5, 2013 /CNW/ - PEN Canada welcomes the Attorney General
of Ontario's pledge to move forward with legislation that will protect
comment in matters of public interest by discouraging frivolous and
vexatious lawsuits. This was recommended in October 2010 by the
province's Advisory Panel on Strategic Litigation Against Public
Participation (SLAPP). Philip Slayton, chair of PEN Canada's National
Affairs Committee, said, "It is time to stop lawsuits that have no
intrinsic merit and are intended only to stifle free expression."
The Panel recommended that anti-SLAPP legislation in Ontario should
cover a wide range of public participation activities, including
disputes brought before the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), and that it
should provide credible disincentives for frivolous and vexatious
lawsuits as well as an expeditious review process to facilitate the
early dismissal of claims that are clearly intended to stifle public
debate and to silence or intimidate critics.
The Panel proposed that once a court determined that the subject of a
lawsuit involved "a communication on a matter of public interest" the
plaintiff should then have to establish both the "substantial merit" of
the claim and show "substantial grounds to believe that the defendant
has no valid defence" before the matter could proceed.
PEN fully supports these proposals and agrees that such measures would
"provide a useful economical way to reduce the incidence of lawsuits
which have an undue adverse impact on public participation." PEN also
believes that such legislation will "encourage freedom of expression on
matters of public interest, and discourage use of the courts in ways
that unduly limit that freedom."
In April 2012 a brief prepared by the Canadian Environmental Law
Association reported that "there is a continually increasing number of
SLAPP suits being brought" in Ontario and noted that: "The mere threat
of being sued is generally sufficient to intimidate and silence those
who are being targeted. Due to the fear of being SLAPPed, others are
also likely to be deterred from participating on the same or other
issues of public interest, resulting in a chilling effect. The power of
a SLAPP, thus, comes not from the strength of the filer's legal
position, but through the strategic use of the legal arena to
intimidate citizen groups and exhaust their limited resources."
In his 2008/2009 Annual Report Ontario's Environmental Commissioner of
Ontario urged the adoption of SLAPP suit protection. ECO Gord Miller
wrote: "The public's right to participate in decision-making over
matters of public interest is a cornerstone of our democratic system.
Efforts aimed at suppressing this right should be discouraged by the
Ontario Legislature and other public agencies. The ECO sees a need for
provincial legislation that would put both sides of development
disputes on equal footing. Such legislation could serve to halt SLAPP
suits in their tracks."
PEN Canada is a nonpartisan organization of writers that works with
others to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right, at home
and abroad. PEN Canada promotes literature, fights censorship, helps
free persecuted writers from prison, and assists writers living in
exile in Canada. (pencanada.ca)
SOURCE: PEN Canada
For further information:
Brendan de Caires, PEN Canada, firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-703-8448 ext. 21