Eby reintroduces anti-SLAPP legislation killed by BC Liberals
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 today introduced the Protection of Public Participation Act, which will safeguard people from strategic lawsuits against public participation (often referred to as SLAPPs) that limit or prevent the expression of individuals’ or groups’ points of view on matters of public interest.
“Lawsuits that serve to silence and financially exhaust those exercising their right of expression exploit our legal system and only serve those with significantly deeper pockets,” Eby said. “We’re committed to ensuring a robust, healthy democracy that defends British Columbians’ fundamental rights – in part, by helping people who want and deserve the freedom to peacefully engage in public debate without fear of unreasonable and financially ruinous legal action against them.”
Earlier this year, legal luminaries, including two retired Supreme Court of Canada judges and a duo of former BC attorneys general, called on Eby, who has a long history as a human rights lawyer, to introduce anti-SLAPP legislation.
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).
Oppal welcomed the bill.
“British Columbians should have the right to participate freely in public debates without fear of retribution,” Oppal said. “The legal system is vulnerable to so-called SLAPP lawsuits that are intended solely to censor public opinion, to intimidate people and to silence critics. SLAPP lawsuits strategically, and without merit, prevent free discussion on matters of public interest. I welcome today’s legislation.”
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But BC Liberals, who took office in 2001, swiftly repealed the legislation in the same year.
“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,” the open letter to Eby read. “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.”