Sam Trosow, an associate law professor and specialist in information policy at Western University, noted recent lawsuits filed against opponents of large-scale wind farms in rural Ontario.
The Ontario government wants to halt the growing practice of using meritless lawsuits as a way to muzzle opponents.
It’s proposing legislation, the Protection of Public Participation Act, it hopes will stop so-called SLAPPs – strategic lawsuits against public participation – often used to quash criticism and tie up the courts.
“The proposed law would minimize the time and resources wasted by plaintiffs, defendants and the courts on meritless claims, while allowing legitimate complaints to proceed in a timely manner,” the attorney general’s office said Monday.
The new law was drafted after extensive consultations starting in 2010. An advisory panel concluded strategic lawsuits were stopping many people from speaking out on matters of public interest.
The law would be a “fast-track review process for lawsuits alleged to be strategic in nature,” the attorney general’s office said.
A judge would be given powers to apply a legal test to determine if the case could proceed or be dismissed. A request to dismiss would be heard within 60 days.
Sam Trosow, an associate law professor and specialist in information policy at Western University, said the proposal is “very good.”
“It’s a good idea and it’s what a modern progressive legal system should do,” he said.
Too often, he said, SLAPP tactics silence critics and “constitute a chill on the exercise of freedom of expression.”
He noted recent lawsuits filed against opponents of large-scale wind farms in rural Ontario and, in London, a lawsuit threat against an animal activist who discussed a recent veterinarian disciplinary decision.
The legislation, he cautioned, will have to balance addressing SLAPP suits without stopping people from filing legitimate lawsuits.
— Strategic lawsuits that threaten court action, to intimidate opponents and discourage them from speaking out.
— Most, filed as defamation claims, have little or no merit and are often dropped before reaching trial.
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