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Author Topic: Ontario must ban SLAPP suits to protect free speech  (Read 380 times)

Offline Eric Klyne

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Ontario must ban SLAPP suits to protect free speech
« on: May 23, 2015, 08:28:13 PM »
Ontario must ban SLAPP suits to protect free speech
It's time for Ontario to ban SLAPPs - lawsuits brought by big companies to silence resource-poor defendants and chill free speech.


Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath was the first to table a bill aimed at banning SLAPPs,
dubious lawsuits often brought by deep-pocketed companies with the specific aim
of silencing resource-poor defendants.


By: Peter Jacobsen Toby Mendel Shane Moffatt Cara Faith Zwibel Published on Fri Nov 08 2013

Freedom of expression and democracy are being undermined in Ontario. A panel of experts convened by the Ontario government in 2010 found that the threat of abusive lawsuits claiming massive damages, especially for defamation, is deterring “significant numbers” of Ontarians from speaking out on issues of important public interest.

However, there is now hope that action will be taken to address this problem, as the province’s political parties find themselves in rare agreement that it is high time to deal with this threat through strong legislation.

Known as SLAPPs (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation), these dubious lawsuits are often brought by deep-pocketed companies with the specific aim of silencing resource-poor defendants. And they are very effective. The defendants, usually ordinary citizens or public interest groups, naturally feel threatened by the prospect of massive legal fees, disruption of their activities and the possibility of large damage awards. Even when the lawsuits have no merit whatsoever, they often result in a chill on free speech.

Comments on a wide range of public interest issues have attracted SLAPP suits in the past. These include reporting on environmental violations by large companies, exposing corruption and other forms of wrongdoing, and criticizing the behaviour of powerful individuals. In other words, SLAPPs are an attack on democracy. They undermine the ability of civil society and private individuals to act as watchdogs over the powerful.

Unfortunately, the threat of facing a SLAPP suit in Ontario is very real today. Greenpeace Canada is currently fighting a $7-million lawsuit brought by logging giant Resolute Forest Products. Dylan Powell, founder of small environmental NGO Marineland Animal Defence, currently faces a $1.5-million SLAPP from Marineland. The issue of SLAPPs first gained prominence in Ontario when Big Bay Point residents were hit with multimillion-dollar lawsuits by developers.

We need legislative protection from these chilling lawsuits. Anti-SLAPP legislation may affirm a legal presumption in favour of the protection of speech on matters that are of public interest, or engage public participation. If the defendant can demonstrate that his or her statements fall within the scope of this presumption, the burden then shifts to the plaintiff who must show that the case has substantial merit, that it is unlikely that any defence would succeed and that, on balance, the harm it has suffered outweighs the harm that would be done to the public interest if the case were to proceed.

Anti-SLAPP legislation has already been adopted in Quebec and most U.S. states. It’s now time for Ontario to follow suit. Important steps have been taken in this regard, specifically in the form of Bill 83, submitted by the Attorney General to the Ontario legislature in May 2013 – the first government-sponsored anti-SLAPP bill in Ontario.

This follows the first ever Ontarian anti-SLAPP bill, put forward by Andrea Horwath of the NDP as a private member’s bill in 2008. The Progressive Conservatives have also voiced support for this type of legislation, noting that abusive lawsuits represent a serious waste of taxpayer dollars.

Despite these positive steps forward, we are concerned about whether there is sufficient political will to see this through. The parties must not delay in adopting legislation that will champion the human rights of ordinary Ontarians, allow for robust debate on matters of public interest, save taxpayer money and uphold confidence in our legal system and our democracy.

Our organizations, along with more than 150 environmental organizations, free speech groups and unions, call on the Ontario legislature to pass anti-SLAPP legislation as a matter of priority. No less than 64 municipalities and the Ontario Bar Association have also supported anti-SLAPP legislation. It is time to protect Ontarians’ right to free expression.

Peter Jacobsen is Chair of the Canadian Issues Committee of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

Toby Mendel is Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy.

Shane Moffatt is Forest Campaigner for Greenpeace Canada.

Cara Faith Zwibel is Director of the Fundamental Freedoms Program of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association
.



http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/11/08/ontario_must_ban_slapp_suits_to_protect_free_speech.html

Offline Eric Klyne

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IBEW drops lawsuit against Daily News
« Reply #1 on: May 25, 2015, 03:58:15 PM »
Union drops lawsuit against Daily News
By Beth Barrett, Staff Writer
POSTED: 12/07/07, 12:01 AM PST

The union representing most Department of Water and Power workers has dropped its lawsuit against the Daily News over publishing employees' names, positions and salaries online and has agreed to pay $17,213 in attorney fees and costs.

The settlement between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18, and the Daily News Publishing Company was reached Monday. The union filed in court Nov. 15 to have its lawsuit dismissed.

The union representing nearly 8,500 DWP workers twice failed in Superior Court to persuade a judge to bar the newspaper from continuing to post workers' salary information obtained under the California Public Records Act.

In rejecting the union's claims, Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs said Nov. 1 that the union had failed to show either a need to exempt all employees' salaries from disclosure or to identify and show a need to exempt particular groups' information from disclosure.

The Daily News reported earlier this year that DWP employees' salaries average $76,949 a year or nearly 20percent more than the average Los Angeles municipal worker.

Two years ago, IBEW Local 18 won a five-year contract guaranteeing worker raises of 16.8percent - and up to 28percent, depending on inflation.

That contract helped drive a recent five-year contract with raises of about 23percent for most of the city's 22,000 municipal workers.

The Daily News first posted the DWP workers' salary information online Sept. 30 at www.dailynews.com.

The California Supreme Court recently upheld that such information is not exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act and that disclosure does not constitute an "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

"The fact that the union dismissed its lawsuit says that they recognized it didn't have any merit," said James Chadwick, a media and entertainment-industry attorney representing the Daily News.

The union's agreement to pay $17,213 in fees and costs settled a lawsuit by the newspaper that alleged that the union's action was a SLAPP case - a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, intended to prevent citizens from exercising their political rights or to punish those who have done so.

"The California anti-SLAPP (statute) is designed for just this purpose, to make sure that when you're sued in a meritless lawsuit you're not forced to bear the costs. That's why we filed an anti-SLAPP to dismiss the lawsuit, and that's why they're agreeing to pay our fees," Chadwick said.

Robert Dohrmann, the attorney representing the union, did not return calls Thursday.

Brian D'Arcy, IBEW Local 18's business manager, also did not return calls for comment.

D'Arcy - who was paid $248,435 out of the nearly $6.5million in membership dues and assessments collected in 2006, according to IRS records - has been the driving political force behind the union, which historically has won some of the most lucrative contracts in the city.


beth.barrett@dailynews.com 818-713-3731

http://www.dailynews.com/general-news/20071207/union-drops-lawsuit-against-daily-news