NDP to reintroduce anti-SLAPP legislation killed by BC Liberals

By ThinkPol Staff

British Columbians will soon be able to once again speak up against big corporations on important issues without the fear of being silenced by costly strategic legal action intended to suppress public participation.

BC Attorney General David Eby announced today that Premier John Horgan’s NDP government is working on reintroducing legislation to protect citizens of BC from Strategic Legal Action Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suits.

Eby, noted for his work as a human rights lawyer, made the announcement after legal luminaries, including two retired Supreme Court of Canada judges and a duo of former BC attorneys general, called on him to introduce anti-SLAPP legislation[1]https://bccla.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Anti-SLAPP-Letter-February-7-003.pdf.

“British Columbians should have the right to participate freely in public debates without fear of retribution,” the BC Attorney General said in a statement. “We are currently considering the means of ensuring that such legislation will be as fair and effective as possible.”

The 15 signatories to the open letter to Eby include retired Supreme court justices Ian Binnie and Frank Iacobucci, former BC premier and former AG Ujjal Dosanjh, retired BC appeal court judge and former AG Wally Oppal (former B.C. Court of Appeal justice and ex-AG).

British Columbians had earlier enjoyed protection against big corporations’ attempts at silencing them thanks to anti-SLAPP legislation introduced by Dosanjh’s NDP government.

But BC Liberals, who took office in 2001, swiftly repealed the legislation in the same year[2]http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/lc/statreg/01019rep_01.

“Defendants of SLAPPs are exposed to onerous financial and emotional costs incurred in a process that attacks their individual right to speak on matters of public interest and chills citizen engagement more broadly,” says the open letter to Eby raid. “British Columbia needs to safeguard the administration of justice by enacting effective anti-SLAPP legislation.”

The BC Civil Liberties Association had earlier urged BC Attorney General to heed the legal heavyweights’ call.

“It is very encouraging to see our pleas for legislation reflected in this open letter to the Attorney General. British Columbians have been paying the price for government inaction on this front for too long,” Staff Counsel Meghan McDermott stated. “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) are often used by wealthy and powerful parties to threaten and silence those who express themselves, and to discourage others from doing so.”

“These lawsuits target local citizens and resident groups who voice concerns about public matters,” McDermott added “People have been sued for speaking at public meetings, for protesting and even for circulating petitions. Both Ontario and Quebec have laws to shield their residents from such tactics. We hope that this call for law reform will finally tip the scales and persuade the provincial government to protect public participation rights.”

[Photo Credit: Province of British Columbia]

References   [ + ]

1. https://bccla.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Anti-SLAPP-Letter-February-7-003.pdf
2. http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/lc/statreg/01019rep_01