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Defending the Right to Protest

Burnaby No Trans Mountain Pipeline March

I am very happy to speak tonight about strategic lawsuits against public participation – or SLAPPs. – because SLAPPs raise some of the most important issues of our time.

We fought for the right to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and the right to protest. We have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a Constitution and we have signed international agreements that are supposed to guarantee our rights. But they clearly don’t.

Anti-SLAPP Legislation in Ontario

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) are on the rise in Ontario. This trend was recognized by the Environment Commissioner of Ontario in his 2008-09 Annual Report and in concerns raised by various non-governmental organizations and municipalities across the province. It has also been acknowledged by the Ontario Government through an expert advisory panel that provided advice on how to design an effective anti-SLAPP law for the province (see the panel's October, 2010 report).

More Than a "Legal" Problem

The constitutional implications of SLAPPs, though profound, are only a starting point. Understanding SLAPPs requires understanding more than their "constitutional" or "legal" aspects, for these are not ordinary “lawsuits"; they operate in much broader realms... [SLAPP suits] are not ordinary because they do not use the courts as an end in themselves, as a normal decision-making body. Rather, they use court leverage to empower one side of a political dispute and to transform it unilaterally. You may think you are speaking out against a city-zoning permit for an unwanted toxic waste dump in your town. Then suddenly, “city hall" becomes "courtroom"; "zoning" becomes "slander"; "permit denial" becomes "$1,000,000 in damages." The magic wand of a SLAPP as conjured you away from the place where your issue could be resolved, completely changed what issues can be discussed and increased the stakes with a wholly unexpected monetary risk. Normally thought of as the protectors of constitutional and political rights, courts are being used in SLAPPs, to transform public political disputes into private judicial disputes, to the unfair advantage of one side [large corporations] and the disadvantage of the other [citizens, activists, unions, associations and non-profits].(Pring and Canan)

Taseko SLAPP over Fish Lake fight

Wilderness Committee defends against Taseko SLAPP over Fish Lake fight

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Trans Mountain v. Dutton

On September 26, 2014, the BC Supreme Court denied the City of Burnaby the right to appeal the decision of the NEB to allow Kinder Morgan to undertake survey work and test drilling on Burnaby Mountain Conservation Land. The decision infuriated residents, environmental, church and many other groups and they began demonstrating against the work on the mountain. Kinder Morgan responded by filing a $5.6-million civil suit against five people for speaking out and allegedly interfering with contractual relations.

SLAPP Suit Case Studies