B.C. Attorney General David Eby (Hansard TV)

B.C. moves to protect public debate from ‘strategic’ lawsuits

Deep-pocketed special interests can silence opponents, David Eby says

The B.C. government is moving to prevent ‘unfair’ lawsuits designed to intimidate or prevent people from taking part in public debates.

Attorney General David Eby presented the Protection of Public Participation Act in the B.C. legislature Tuesday, saying it won’t be debated until next fall to give the public time to study it. The legislation restores a provision that was briefly in effect in 2001, and is similar to recent Ontario legislation protecting freedom of speech, he said.

“Lawsuits that serve to silence and financially exhaust those exercising their right of expression exploit our legal system and serve those with significantly deeper pockets,” Eby said.

The new law would allow a defendant to apply through an “expedited process” to have a lawsuit dismissed on the basis that it interferes with free speech on a public issue. It would be up to the plaintiff to convince a judge that harm from the speech would outweigh the public interest in protecting it.

“Previously the person who was sued had to show that the person who was suing them had a bad intent, that their intent was to silence them,” Eby said. “It’s a very difficult thing to prove unless you have an email or a witness who says the person told them that that’s what their intention was.

“This bill shifts it so the person who’s being sued only needs to show that the effect of the litigation is that their expression on a matter of public interest is affected.”

The bill allows people to apply for dismissal in a case that is already ongoing, which is why its passage is being delayed until fall, Eby said.

The government doesn’t have statistics on the number of “SLAPP” (strategic lawsuit against public participation) cases there are, because many are threatened but not acted upon, he said.

Meghan McDermott, staff counsel for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said the change is overdue.

“People have been sued for speaking at public meetings, for protesteing and even for circulating petitions,” McDermott said.

Just Posted

Okanagan Rail Trail to officially open

Thursday, Sept. 27, 11 a.m., Oyama Boat Launch, Wood Lake; public welcome

Chinese author tackles racism and reconciliation

David Wong says cultural diversity should not be feared

Growing Okanagan tech sector hailed in new report

Study shows sector employees 12, 474 workers and is worth $1.67 billion to regional economy

Okanagan Sun tackle Chilliwack Saturday in BCFC action

The Sun will be looking for revenge at home after Corn Huskers beat them 22-18 earlier in season

SilverStar Resort hosts motorcycle weekend

Racers from Canada, the U.S. and Australia expected to compete at Vernon event

VIDEO: Neighbours fear impact of B.C. tent city residents

Greater Victoria residents opposed to campers voice concerns at provincial campground

Fashion Fridays: Rock some animal print

Kim XO, lets you in on the latest fall fashion trends on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

New evacuations ordered because of Florence flooding

Emergency managers on Friday ordered about 500 people to flee homes along the Lynches River

B.C. doctor weighs in on the kid ‘screen time’ debate

A Maple Ridge mother opens up about her children’s use of tablets, smartphones and television

B.C. councillor’s expenses being sent to the RCMP

Decision to have expenses audited and shared with RCMP taken at special meeting of council

More than 35 B.C. mayors elected without contest

No other candidates for mayor in the upcoming local election in 22 per cent of B.C. cities

Legal society poster seeks complainants against two cops on Downtown Eastside

Pivot Legal Society became aware of allegations made against the officers after a video circulated

Jury to deliberate in case of Calgary man accused of murdering woman

Curtis Healy could be convicted of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter

Most Read