Safeguards to protect British Columbians’ freedom of speech and expression have been reintroduced with proposed legislation.
David Eby, Attorney General, tabled the protection of public participation act, which will protect people from strategic lawsuits against public participation, known as SLAPPs, that limit or stifle criticism or opposition on matters of public interest by imposing exhaustive and potentially costly legal actions. The legislation was first introduced in May 2018.
“This bill reflects what we’ve heard from many British Columbians, including several leading legal figures,” said Eby. “They’ve told us that this legislation is key to protecting and advancing freedom of speech and expression in our province. Our government is listening and we are committed to protecting these freedoms.”
In 2001, British Columbia was the first jurisdiction in Canada to enact this kind of legislation. It was repealed the same year. This new legislation reflects successful legislation in Ontario and is a fairer, more effective legislative model than B.C.’s previous legislation.
If passed, the act will apply to lawsuits started on or after May 15, 2018, when the legislation was first introduced.
In Canada, laws protecting freedom of the press lag behind other democratic countries. In defamation suits, the accused has a “reverse onus,” and is assumed guilty until proven innocent in court. Reverse onus paves the way for strategic lawsuits against public participation, aka the SLAPP suit.
According to this Wikipedia article, “A … (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.” SLAPP suits “load defendants with costs of responding.” SPN has been on the receiving end of two letters (here and here) that threatened legal action if certain articles were not removed. Since the articles were factual, they were not removed.
Libel (which leads to defamation) exists when a false statement is published, and that statement damages a person’s reputation.
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- Anti-SLAPP legislation on the government’s itinerary