Ecojustice Blog – Healthy communities Posted on January 31, 2014 (updated: March 29, 2017)

Tell Ontario not to kill anti-SLAPP bill that defends free speech

Pierre SadikLawyer

Speaking out against environmental harm, or other injustices, is something we take for granted in a democratic society such as Canada.

Many of us do it on occasion at small gatherings or at large public meetings, or even in front of the media. We do it because we care about how and why important decisions about our community or our country are made. It’s part of the democratic process, part of a healthy democracy, and one of the things that separates us from authoritarian countries. In fact, freedom of speech is one of if not the key right that — again and again — we see people fighting for in repressive societies.

The enemy of free speech in Ontario
Sometimes those who speak out against injustice get slapped with a lawsuit by deep-pocketed interests or corporations. The lawsuit is intended to do nothing more than muzzle individuals who are speaking out against injustice. We call these SLAPPs — strategic lawsuits against public participation (Click here to read more about SLAPPs). They’re designed to stop the free speech that’s making deep-pocketed interests uncomfortable by shining a light on potential injustice.

This tactic — lawyering up and hitting a financially vulnerable opponent with a multi-million dollar lawsuit — has been used again and again in Ontario over the past few decades. It’s used because it’s effective and has frightened people into refraining from speaking out. In several lawsuits widely regarded as SLAPPs, a developer used the tactic against citizens who sought to rein in a billion-dollar development on the shores of Lake Simcoe at Big Bay Point. And it’s being used right now in many other instances where communities are speaking out in defence of our shared environment.

How a bill can battle SLAPPs
Recently, however, something extraordinary happened. The government of Ontario introduced Bill 83, anti-SLAPP legislation designed to put an end to these types of threatening lawsuits that stifle free speech. Even more extraordinarily, the government’s bill received all-party support in the provincial legislature (after all, who wants to be on the wrong side of free speech?).

But unfortunately, Bill 83 is now stuck in the gummed-up legislative process (at second reading) as the parties position themselves in advance of what is expected to be a spring election. Wouldn’t it be a shame if Bill 83 died in the legislature once the election is called? Wouldn’t it be the height of short-sightedness if the parties allowed partisan politics to get in the way of guaranteeing freedom of speech for all Ontarians — not just those with deep pockets?

How you can protect free speech in Ontario
I’ve done something about it by writing to the premier. Now you can join me in doing something that will help save this important bill.

Click here to sign this petition and urge the government to pass the Bill 83 anti-SLAPP legislation.

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