SLAPP

Why should you care?

If you believe in freedom of expression or if have ever expressed a view contrary to the status quo, you should care a whole bunch because you too could face legal action. It’s called a SLAPP suit – Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation – an abuse of the legal system by the rich and powerful, governments or corporations, to bully critics and shut down public discussion by threatening dissidents with legal costs and broad prohibitions against speaking out. If they can bully Mordecai, Carel and Gordon, they can bully you.

Canwest’s actions set a dangerous precedent for any and all who express an opinion that someone with money disagrees with. Canadian troops in Afghanistan? Environmental issues? Aboriginal rights? Tasers in the hands of the police? You name it; they can sue you. They may not win, but it will cost you plenty in time, money and the stress of wondering if that article or speech will land you in a whole mess of trouble. Its intent is to bully those who don’t own media conglomerates and have legions of lawyers on retainer, i.e. YOU!

Resources

New libel defence allowed by Supreme Court, cbc.ca, Dec 22, 2009

What to do if someone SLAPPs you, rabble.ca, Dec 16, 2009

No trademark on free speech, The Star, Aug 29, 2009

Anti-SLAPP Legislation Passed in Quebec, RushPRnews

New law makes it harder to SLAPP in Quebec, Montreal Gazette, June 4, 2009

Read Québec’s proposed anti-SLAPP legislation Version français

The Protection of Public Participation Act (BC’s anti-SLAPP legislation) came into effect in April, 2001. It was repealed by the BC Liberal government in August, 2001. The BC NDP passed a motion supporting the reintroduction of anti-SLAPP legislation in April 2008.

B.C. man secretly taped in own home, then sued over comments, cbc.ca story about outrageous SLAPP suit in BC

How I Changed Libel Law, Rafe Mair discusses his case and SLAPP suits in thetyee.ca

Full Wikipedia article on SLAPPs.

Strategic lawsuit against public participation
–Excerpt from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (“SLAPP“) is a lawsuit or a threat of lawsuit that is intended to intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Winning the lawsuit is not necessarily the intent of the person filing the SLAPP. The plaintiff’s goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism. A SLAPP may also intimidate others from participating in the debate.

According to New York Supreme Court Judge J. Nicholas Colabella, “Short of a gun to the head, a greater threat to First Amendment [freedom of] expression can scarcely be imagined.” A number of jurisdictions have made such suits illegal, provided that the appropriate standards of journalistic responsibility have been met by the critic.

SLAPP examples

Canada

One of the first cases in Canada to deal with a SLAPP was Fraser v. Saanich (see [1999] B.C.J. No. 3100 (B.C. S.C.)) (QL), where the British Columbia Supreme Court struck out the claim of a hospital director against the District of Saanich, holding that it was a meritless action designed to silence or intimidate the residents who were opposed to the plaintiff’s plan to redevelop the hospital facilities.

Following the decision in Fraser v. Saanich, the Protection of Public Participation Act came into effect in British Columbia in April,2001. It was repealed in August, 2001.

New Zealand

* In 2004 the Scoop news website was served a SLAPP by KFC lawyers due to their link to a spoof website operated by Greenpeace New Zealand. [1]

* In 2007 Solid Energy also placed a court injunction on the Save Happy Valley Campaign for publishing a spoof environmental report. [3]

Australia

* Gunns 20 – Gunns Limited v Marr & Ors, is a current case, filed by Gunns (a major forestry company with main office in Tasmania) in the Supreme Court of Victoria, against 20 individuals and organizations for over 7.8 million dollars.

Europe

In February 2005 the European Court of Human Rights found that Helen Steel and David Morris did not receive a fair trial while defending a libel action brought by McDonald’s in the United Kingdom. In what became known as the McLibel case, the two had been found guilty in 1994 of libelling the company in a leaflet. The court ruled that, because legal aid is not available to libel defendants, their right to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated. They were awarded £24,000 damages, plus costs.

South Africa

Anglo Platinum, the world’s largest platinum miner and a subsidiary of Anglo American PLC, the world’s second largest mining corporation, filed SLAPPs against a South African public interest lawyer Richard Spoor, who represented indigenous communities affected by platinum mining on tribal land. The actions include an application in the High Court for a so-called gagging order, ostensibly to prevent him further injuring the good name and reputation of the corporation, the lodging of complaints with the Law Society of unprofessional behaviour and the lodging of a civil action for damages for some $500,000.00. AngloPlatinum also obtained an ex parte (without notice) order interdicting two tribal chiefs from interfering with their mining operations and had them arrested on charges of intimidation and trespass. Subsequently, followers of the two tribal chiefs were shot, beaten and arrested for protesting the mine’s presence on tribal land.

California

The U.S. state of California enacted Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16 in 1992, a statute intended to prevent the misuse of litigation in SLAPP suits. It provides for a special motion which a defendant can file at the outset of a lawsuit to strike a complaint where the complaint arises from conduct that falls within the rights of petition or free speech. The statute expressly applies to any writing or speech made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a legislative, executive, or judicial proceeding, or any other official proceeding authorized by law, but there is no requirement that the writing or speech be promulgated directly to the official body. It also applies to speech in a public forum about an issue of public interest and to any other petition or speech conduct about an issue of public interest.

Other States

At least 24 other states and one territory have also enacted some form of statutory protections against SLAPPs. These are Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington. In Colorado and West Virginia, the courts have adopted protections against SLAPPs.

Oprah Winfrey, as defendant, won a SLAPP filed against her by the cattle industry.

Back to Top

Quebec’s proposed anti-SLAPP Legislation

Version français

Bill 99

An Act to amend the Code of Civil Procedure to prevent abusive use of the courts and promote freedom of expression and citizen participation in public debate

Introduced by
Mr. Jacques P. Dupuis
Minister of Justice

EXPLANATORY NOTES

This bill amends the Code of Civil Procedure to promote freedom of expression and prevent abusive use of the courts, in particular the use of court proceedings to thwart the right of citizens to participate in public debate.

For that purpose, the bill allows the courts to promptly dismiss a proceeding that is abusive. It specifies what may constitute an abuse of procedure and authorizes the reversal of the burden of proof if the abuse of procedure is obvious.

The bill also allows the courts to order the payment of a provision for costs, declare that a legal action is abusive, condemn a party to pay the fees and extrajudicial costs of the other party, and order a party to pay punitive damages.

LEGISLATION AMENDED BY THIS BILL:

– Code of Civil Procedure (R.S.Q., chapter C-25).

Bill 99

AN ACT TO AMEND THE CODE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE TO PREVENT ABUSIVE USE OF THE COURTS AND PROMOTE FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND CITIZEN PARTICIPATION IN PUBLIC DEBATE

AS it is important to promote freedom of expression as affirmed in the Charter of human rights and freedoms;

AS it is important to prevent abusive use of the courts and discourage judicial proceedings designed to thwart the right of citizens to participate in public debate;

AS it is important to promote access to justice for all citizens and to strike a fairer balance between the financial strength of the parties to a legal action;

THE PARLIAMENT OF QUÉBEC ENACTS AS FOLLOWS:

1. The Code of Civil Procedure (R.S.Q., chapter C-25) is amended by inserting the following after article 54 in Chapter III of Title II of Book I concerning the powers of courts and judges:

“SECTION III

“POWER TO IMPOSE SANCTIONS FOR ABUSE OF PROCEDURE IN FIRST INSTANCE

“54.1. A court of first instance may, at any time, on request or even on its own initiative, declare an action or pleading abusive and impose a sanction on the party concerned.

The abuse of procedure may consist in a claim or pleading that is clearly unfounded, frivolous or dilatory or in a conduct that is vexatious or quarrelsome. It may also consist in bad faith, in a use of procedure that is excessive or unreasonable or causes prejudice to another person, or in a perversion of the ends of justice, in particular if it operates to restrict freedom of expression in public debate.

“54.2. If a party establishes that an action or pleading is prima facie an abuse of procedure, the onus is on the party who instituted the action or filed the pleading to show that the action or pleading is not an excessive or unreasonable use of procedure and is justified in law.

“54.3. If there is an abuse of procedure, the court may dismiss the action, strike out a submission or require that it be amended, reject a pleading or terminate or refuse to allow an examination.

“54.4. The court may, if it considers it appropriate,

(1) subject the furtherance of the action or the pleading to certain conditions;

(2) require undertakings from the party concerned with regard to the orderly conduct of the proceeding;

(3) suspend the case for the period it determines;

(4) recommend to the chief judge or chief justice that special case management be ordered; or

(5) for serious reasons, if justified by the circumstances, and if the court notes that the financial situation of a party would prevent the party from properly arguing the party’s case, order that a provision for costs in a specified amount be paid to that party.

“54.5. In ruling on the abusive character of an action or pleading, the court may order that a provision for costs be reimbursed, condemn a party to pay, in addition to the costs, damages in reparation for the prejudice suffered by another party, including the fees and extrajudicial costs incurred by that party and, if justified by the circumstances, award punitive damages.

If the amount of the damages is not admitted or may not be established easily at the time the action or pleading is declared abusive, the court may summarily rule on the amount, or reserve the right of a party to have the amount determined by the competent court within the time and under the conditions determined by the court.

“54.6. If the abuse of procedure is committed by a legal person or a person who acts as the administrator of the property of another, the directors and officers of the legal person who took part in the decision or the administrator of the property of another may be personally condemned to pay damages.

If the abuse of procedure results from a party’s quarrelsomeness, the court may also prohibit the party from instituting legal proceedings without the authorization of the chief judge or chief justice.”

2. Chapter III.1 of Title III of Book I of the Code, comprising articles 75.1 and 75.2, is repealed.

3. Article 151.11 of the Code is amended by adding “, character” after “by the nature” in the first sentence.

4. Article 165 of the Code is amended

(1) by striking out paragraph 4;

(2) by adding the following paragraph:

“The defendant may also ask for the complete or partial dismissal of all or part of the action if it is abusive or unfounded in law, even if the facts alleged are true.”

5. This Act comes into force on (insert the date of assent to this Act).

Back to Top

Projet de loi no 99

PREMIÈRE SESSION TRENTE-HUITIÈME LÉGISLATURE

Loi modifiant le Code de procédure civile pour prévenir l’utilisation abusive des tribunaux et favoriser le respect de la liberté d’expression et la participation des citoyens aux débats publics

Présenté par
M. Jacques P. Dupuis
Ministre de la Justice
Éditeur officiel du Québec
2008

NOTES EXPLICATIVES

Ce projet de loi modifie le Code de procédure civile en vue de
favoriser le respect de la liberté d’expression et de prévenir l’utilisation
abusive des tribunaux qui pourrait être faite au moyen de procédures,
notamment pour limiter le droit des citoyens de participer à des
débats publics.
À cette fin, ce projet de loi prévoit des dispositions permettant
notamment de prononcer rapidement l’irrecevabilité de toute
procédure abusive. Il prévoit ce qui peut constituer une procédure
abusive et autorise, lorsque l’abus apparaît à sa face même, le
renversement du fardeau de la preuve.
En outre, il permet notamment aux tribunaux d’ordonner le
versement d’une provision pour frais, de déclarer la poursuite abusive,
de condamner une partie au paiement des honoraires et débours
extrajudiciaires de l’autre partie, ainsi qu’au paiement de dommagesintérêts
punitifs.

LOI MODIFIÉE PAR CE PROJET :
– Code de procédure civile (L.R.Q., chapitre C-25).

Projet de loi no 99

LOI MODIFIANT LE CODE DE PROCÉDURE CIVILE POUR
PRÉVENIR L’UTILISATION ABUSIVE DES TRIBUNAUX ET
FAVORISER LE RESPECT DE LA LIBERTÉ D’EXPRESSION ET
LA PARTICIPATION DES CITOYENS AUX DÉBATS PUBLICS

CONSIDÉRANT l’importance de favoriser le respect de la liberté d’expression
consacrée dans la Charte des droits et libertés de la personne ;
CONSIDÉRANT l’importance de prévenir l’utilisation abusive des tribunaux,
notamment pour empêcher qu’ils ne soient utilisés pour limiter le droit des
citoyens de participer à des débats publics ;
CONSIDÉRANT l’importance de favoriser l’accès à la justice pour tous les
citoyens et de veiller à favoriser un meilleur équilibre dans les forces
économiques des parties à une action en justice ;

LE PARLEMENT DU QUÉBEC DÉCRÈTE CE QUI SUIT:

1. Le Code de procédure civile (L.R.Q., chapitre C-25) est modifié par
l’insertion, au chapitre III du titre II du livre premier portant sur les pouvoirs
des tribunaux et des juges, et après l’article 54, de ce qui suit :

«SECTION III
«DU POUVOIR DE SANCTIONNER LES ABUS DE LA PROCÉDURE EN
PREMIÈRE INSTANCE

« 54.1. Les tribunaux de première instance peuvent à tout moment, sur
demande et même d’office, déclarer qu’une demande en justice ou un acte de
procédure est abusif et prononcer une sanction contre la partie qui agit de
manière abusive.
L’abus peut résulter d’une demande en justice ou d’un acte de procédure
manifestement mal fondé, frivole ou dilatoire, ou d’un comportement vexatoire
ou quérulent. Il peut aussi résulter de la mauvaise foi, de l’utilisation de la
procédure de manière excessive ou déraisonnable ou de manière à nuire à
autrui ou encore du détournement des fins de la justice, notamment si cela a
pour effet de limiter la liberté d’expression d’autrui dans le contexte de
débats publics.

«54.2. Si une partie établit que la demande en justice ou l’acte de
procédure constitue, à sa face même, un abus, il revient à la partie qui
l’introduit de démontrer que son geste n’est pas exercé de manière excessive
ou déraisonnable et se justifie en droit.

«54.3. Le tribunal peut, dans un cas d’abus, rejeter la demande en
justice, supprimer une conclusion ou en exiger la modification, rejeter un
acte de procédure, refuser un interrogatoire ou y mettre fin.

«54.4. Le tribunal peut, s’il l’estime approprié :

1° assujettir la poursuite de la demande en justice ou l’acte de procédure à
certaines conditions ;
2° requérir des engagements de la partie concernée quant à la bonne
marche de l’instance ;
3° suspendre l’instance pour la période qu’il fixe ;
4° recommander au juge en chef d’ordonner une gestion particulière de
l’instance ;
5° ordonner, pour des motifs sérieux, si les circonstances le justifient et
s’il constate qu’une partie se trouve dans une situation économique telle
qu’elle est dans l’impossibilité de valablement faire valoir son point de vue,
de lui verser une provision pour frais dont il fixe le montant.

«54.5. Le tribunal peut, en se prononçant sur le caractère abusif d’une
demande en justice ou d’un acte de procédure, ordonner, le cas échéant, le
remboursement de la provision pour frais versée, condamner une partie à
payer, outre les dépens, des dommages-intérêts en réparation du préjudice
subi par une autre partie, notamment pour compenser les honoraires et
débours extrajudiciaires que celle-ci a engagés ou, si les circonstances le
justifient, attribuer des dommages-intérêts punitifs.
Si le montant des dommages-intérêts n’est pas admis ou ne peut être établi
aisément au moment de la déclaration d’abus, il peut en décider sommairement
ou réserver le droit d’une partie de les faire établir par le tribunal compétent,
dans le délai et sous les conditions qu’il détermine.

« 54.6. Lorsque l’abus est le fait d’une personne morale ou d’une
personne qui agit en qualité d’administrateur du bien d’autrui, les
administrateurs et les dirigeants de la personne morale qui ont participé à la
décision ou l’administrateur du bien d’autrui peuvent être condamnés
personnellement au paiement des dommages-intérêts.
Lorsque l’abus résulte de la quérulence d’une partie, le tribunal peut, en
outre, interdire à la partie d’introduire une demande en justice sans l’autorisation
préalable du juge en chef. ».

2. Le chapitre III.1 du titre III du livre premier de ce code, comprenant les
articles 75.1 et 75.2, est abrogé.

3. L’article 151.11 de ce code est modifié par l’ajout, dans la première
phrase, après les mots « en raison de sa nature », des mots « , de son caractère ».

4. L’article 165 de ce code est modifié :

1° par la suppression du paragraphe 4° ;
2° par l’ajout de l’alinéa suivant :
« Le défendeur peut opposer également l’irrecevabilité de la totalité ou
d’une partie de la demande et conclure à son rejet, total ou partiel, si la
demande ou une partie de celle-ci est abusive ou n’est pas fondée en droit,
supposé même que les faits allégués soient vrais. ».
5. La présente loi entre en vigueur le (indiquer ici la date de la sanction de
la présente loi).

Back to Top

One response to “SLAPP

  1. This bill is a no brainer,the rich and arrogant have been bespoiling the credibility of courts and the right of public opinion with unfounded punitive and vexatious actions for far too long. It is time that crushing financial reparations are served up to those who would destroy the ability to speak freely to their unspeakable crimes against humanity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s