THE BC Civil Liberties Association on Tuesday said it is thrilled about the introduction of anti-SLAPP legislation. Strategic lawsuits against public participation (“SLAPPs”) have been used by powerful parties with the effect of threatening and silencing those who express themselves on matters of public interest, and to discouraging others from doing so, it noted.
Staff Counsel Meghan McDermott said: “After decades of advocacy, we are thrilled to see the BC government table legislation to protect British Columbians from strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs). People have been paying the price for government inaction on this front for too long. These lawsuits have targeted individuals and resident groups who voice concerns about public matters. People have been sued for speaking at public meetings, for protesting and even for circulating petitions.”
Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BCCLA, stated: “Many British Columbians and organizations in this province have been harassed, intimidated and litigated into silence by stronger parties with spurious – and in some cases outrageous – legal threats and causes of action. This legislation will allow lawsuits that silence people on matters of public interest to be more quickly identified, avoiding a long and expensive trial that can mean overwhelming costs for people.”
Paterson added that the intention of the legislation is not to stop individuals or corporations from using the legal system to defend their reputational rights or commercial interests through lawsuits. Rather, the legislation should permit lawsuits whose legal merit outweighs their harmful effect on freedom of expression and public participation to proceed.
The BCCLA stated that the Bill includes features that are needed to be effective in discouraging the pursuit of SLAPPs, and in facilitating their early dismissal by the justice system. These features include economic disincentives, procedural mechanisms to fast-track the resolution of SLAPPs and putting the onus on the plaintiff to satisfy the court that the lawsuit has substantial merit. While the bill does not set out an explicit statutory right of public participation to provide guidance to the courts in interpreting its provisions, the BCCLA noted the government’s strong statement that protecting public participation is the reason for the Bill.