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

Bowser residents protest marine sewage outfall plan

Veenhof and staff endures harsh criticisms at public information meeting

Qualicum Beach society goes to bat for insect eaters

Two bat houses built to monitor population in Heritage Forest

Parksville reopens portion of wetland

City undertakes review, remediation of liability concerns

Is Steve Nash Vancouver Island’s best athlete of all-time?

As Captain Canada gets ready to enter basketball’s Hall of Fame it’s time to debate his legacy

Who is Vancouver Island’s greatest athlete ever?

We want to know, you get to choose in a 64-athlete tournament bracket

VIDEO: After the floods, comes the cleanup as Grand Forks rebuilds

Business owners in downtown wonder how long it will take for things to go back to normal

SAR scaling back in Kilmer search, but friends will keep looking

Search for 41-year-old Cobble Hill dad hits six-day mark

Rachel Notley to skip premiers conference to focus on pipeline deal

Kinder Morgan has ceased all non-essential spending on the Trans Mountain pipeline project until it receives assurances

B.C. tech company will power Uber Elevate

Moli and Uber announce research and development partnership.

Olympian sues USA Swimming, saying it failed to protect her

Ariana Kukors Smith alleges her former coach Sean Hutchison began grooming her for sexual abuse at the age of 13

Defence minister thanks troops for B.C. flood relief work

Harjit Sajjan says not only was military response quick, support from locals has been ‘tremendous’

Still no sign of missing father in Cowichan Valley

Search group for Ben Kilmer now stands 40 SAR volunteers and another 100 friends and concerned community members

Couple survives being buried in mudslide on B.C. highway

The couple, from Saskatchewan, were en route to Nelson when a tree fell in their path

‘So grateful:’ Injured Bronco hockey player glad he’s alive, works on recovery

Ryan Straschnitzki was badly hurt in the accident: a spinal injury, broken ribs, a broken collar bone, and punctured lung

Most Read