Last week, the Quebec government introduced a bill in the National Assembly (provincial legislature) to tackle the issue of SLAPPs.
Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPPs for short, typically take the form of defamation actions brought by large corporate actors in an attempt to shut down criticism by non-governmental organizations or local citizens. The actions are seen by critics as an abuse of process, or a form of legal bullying by interests with deep pockets who try to bankrupt opponents or intimidate them into silence.
Bill 99 will amend the Quebec Code of Civil Procedure to authorize 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.”
More context in the Library Boy post of July 22, 2007 entitled Quebec Expert Panel Says Protect People Against Abusive Defamation Suits.
Controversy over SLAPPs started a few years ago in Quebec after one of Quebec’s oldest environmental organizations was threatened with imminent extinction because of a multi-million dollar lawsuit from a scrap metal operator.
More than half of the states in the USA have anti-SLAPP laws on their books.
Background on SLAPPs:
- SLAPPs: Getting Sued for Speaking Out: “George Pring and Penelope Canan [originated the term] after investigating a range of behaviour that led to legal action against activists, including peaceful demonstrators, seeking signatures for petitions, and even reporting corporate breaches of environmental regulation… They suggest that SLAPPs are not intended to reach the courts (where they typically lose) but are designed to silence criticism through legal intimidation. The goal is to limit public debate and to allow corporations to continue their activities without restriction.”
- Defamation and SLAPPs (Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, University of Ottawa): “The plaintiff’s goal in a SLAPP is not to win the lawsuit, but is rather to silence a critic by instilling fear of large legal costs and the spectre of large damage awards. Despite their right to free speech, critics may be frightened into silence…”
- Corporate Retaliation Against Consumers: The Status of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) in Canada (Public Interest Advocacy Centre): “The report describes a number of lawsuits or threats of a lawsuit in Canada that fit the definition of a SLAPP. This evidence suggests that SLAPPs are very much a Canadian phenomenon and have been initiated against consumers for public criticism of products or services as well as against individuals for advocating on environmental issues. The report briefly analyses the constitutional questions raised by SLAPPs and draws comparisons to the constitutional and judicial treatment of SLAPPs in the United States.”
- California Anti-SLAPP Project: “the Project is a public interest law firm that provides assistance to people on the receiving end of SLAPPs. About half the states in the United States have enacted anti-SLAPP legislation and the website provides links to case law and statutes for California and other states. As well, the site offers other resources, including a bibliography on the issue (updated to 2003) ”
- SLAPP’s in Australia (Center for Media and Democracy Sourcewatch): “The following is the beginning of a list of Australian cases where civil litigation has transformed public debate into legal cases… The Center describes itself as a ‘non-profit, public interest organization that strengthens participatory democracy by investigating and exposing public relations spin and propaganda, and by promoting media literacy and citizen journalism’. Its most well-known project is perhaps the quarterly PR Watch which investigates the public relations or ‘spin’ industry.”