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

New community concert band in Metchosin seeking members

Metchosin band brings together musicians of all skill levels

Series of new parks planned for Royal Bay

Construction expected to begin in the fall

Multi-vehicle crash along the Malahat leaves traffic crawling

Southbound lane heavily delayed at Malahat Summit

Victoria Wolves are in the midst of their best season ever

Wolves aiming for national championships in Nanaimo

Environment plan to be completed on proposed rock quarry

O.K. Industries sends letter to Highlands, local association

BC Games: Day 3 wrap and closing ceremonies

The torch in the Cowichan Valley has been extinguished as Fort St. John gets ready to host the 2020 BC Winter Games

Royal Canadian Navy announces leadership changes in Esquimalt

Commodore Angus Topshee new commander of Canadian Fleet Pacific, naval reserve also gets new leader

Police confirm girl, 8 others injured in Toronto shooting; shooter dead

Paramedics said many of the victims in Danforth, including a child, were rushed to trauma centres

Why do they do it? Coaches guide kids to wins, personal bests at the BC Games

Behind the 2,300 B.C. athletes are the 450 coaches who dedicate time to help train, compete

WATCH: Iconic Langham Court keeps community involved in theatre

Rockland-based company continues building legacy after nine decades

Government sets full-time salary range for Justin Trudeau’s nanny

At its top range, the order works out to a rate of $21.79 per hour, assuming a 40-hour work week

Lower Mainland teams battle for baseball gold at BC Games

Vancouver Coastal squeaked out a 3-2 win against Fraser Valley

Most Read