Esther Wrightman says she could be the poster child for Ontario’s proposed new law to curb strategic lawsuits launched to silence critics.
The provincial government introduced the Protection of Public Participation Act just weeks after wind farm developer NextEra Energy Canada launched a lawsuit against Wrightman, a Middlesex County anti-wind activist.
Wrightman said that when she heard about the proposed new law, “I went, ‘What? Really? I could use that, right about now.”
Ontario says the law, if passed, would allow courts to quickly identify and deal with strategic lawsuits launched to intimate opponents and reduce their ability to participate in public debates.
The legislation, based on recommendations from an expert advisory panel, would also reduce time wasted in court on meritless claims, the government says.
“We live in a fair and democratic society, and we believe that this law will provide a balanced approach that recognizes both the right to public expression and the importance of protection of reputation,” said Attorney General John Gerretsen.
Wrightman said that while the new law may come too late to help her, it acknowledges that strategic lawsuits are a problem.
Laws to protect citizens against strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) are common in the U.S., but Quebec is currently the only Canadian province with one.
NextEra is suing Wrightman over a corporate logo the company says was altered to say “Nexterror” when it appeared on an anti-wind website, as well as video posted online.
The company’s allegations have not been proven in court.
“Nextera knew that I was using this image for a year and they didn’t choose to act on it until things got hot,” Wrightman said.
“I do feel it was a SLAPP suit, because of that.”
Wrightman has been a vocal opponent of industrial wind farm proposals in Middlesex and Lambton counties, including several NextEra projects.
“I definitely think that it’s a SLAPP lawsuit,” said Monte McNaughton, MPP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex. “This is a David virus Goliath story.”
McNaughton, a member of the PC caucus at Queen’s Park, says the lawsuit is part of the fallout from the Liberal’s Green Energy Act.
“The Green Energy Act has divided communities and pit neighbours against neighbours,” he said.
“It’s the Liberal government’s fault that these lawsuits are happening.”
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