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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 21:24 EDT

140 groups call on Ontario legislature to make public advocacy bill top priority

September 18, 2013

TORONTO, MONTREAL and HALIFAX, Sept. 18, 2013 /CNW/ – Over 140 groups,
including environmental organizations, unions and freedom of expression
advocates, are calling on the Ontario legislature to adopt strong
legislation to prevent Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation
(SLAPPs) from being used to limit freedom of expression, public
participation and prevent the abuse of libel laws.

Anti-SLAPP laws, which have already been adopted in Quebec, a majority
of U.S. states and several other countries are designed to prevent
powerful companies and individuals from lodging meritless lawsuits,
often for defamation, which are designed not to protect reputation but
to silence critics. These lawsuits burden defendants, often public
interest advocacy groups, with massive legal fees, draining their
resources and distracting them from their core work. As such, they
exert a chilling effect on freedom of expression and make it more
difficult for civil society to act as watchdog of the powerful.

In May, Attorney General John Gerretsen submitted Bill 83, the first
government-sponsored anti-SLAPP bill in Ontario. This follows a 2010
report by the Ontario Anti-SLAPP Advisory Panel which found that SLAPPs
deter people from speaking out against what they see as social wrongs.

“With MPPs back in the legislature, it is time to move quickly to
protect Ontarians when talking about the issues that matter most to
them,” said Shane Moffatt, forest campaigner for Greenpeace Canada.
“These meritless lawsuits tangle up our courts and waste taxpayers’
dollars.”

The over 140 groups – including Greenpeace Canada, Canadian Journalists
for Free Expression, Council of Canadians, Marineland Animal Defense,
and the Centre for Law and Democracy – have presented a petition to
Ontario MPPs expressing their concern at the increasing use of SLAPPs
and denouncing it as an abuse of the court system. The groups stand
behind Greenpeace and other organizations’ right to freely express
opinions on issues of public interest, including the future of Canada’s
forests, without fear of lawsuit.

“Deep pocketed corporations must be prevented from attacking
organizations or individuals with abusive lawsuits to shut down public
debate,” affirmed Maude Barlow, national chair of the Council of
Canadians. “They undermine the court system and impose a chilling
effect on public debate.”

Several of the supporting groups have been targeted by SLAPPs.
Greenpeace Canada is currently fighting a $7 million lawsuit brought by
logging giant Resolute Forest Products, while Marineland Animal Defense
founder Dylan Powell faces a $1.5 million SLAPP from Marineland, in
both cases for engaging in public interest criticism. The issue first
gained prominence in Ontario when Big Bay Point residents were hit with
a $3.2 million lawsuit by developers.

“Our organizations play a crucial role in shining a light on issues the
public would otherwise never be aware of,” explained Powell of
Marineland Animal Defense. “Unfortunately, case law offers little
protection and this legislative void will be used as leverage until
anti-SLAPP legislation exists.”

“The need for effective anti-SLAPP laws has been proven around the
world,” added Toby Mendel, Executive Director of the Centre for Law and
Democracy and Annie Game, Executive Director of Canadian Journalists
for Free Expression. “It is critical that Ontario and other Canadian
jurisdictions bring themselves into line with these global
developments.”

Notes:

For the petition and full list of supporting organizations visit http://www.greenpeace.ca/antislapp

Read the proposed Bill 83 at http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&BillID=2810

View the full 2010 report by the Anti-SLAPP Advisory Panel at http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/anti_slapp/anti_slapp_final_report_en.pdf

SOURCE GREENPEACE

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Source: PR Newswire