Thanks to the Ontario government citizens will be able to participate in public debates without fear of being slapped with a lawsuit. Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP’s) silence public debate and put a chill on free speech. Bill 83 (Protection of Public Participation Act) was poised to pass in the Ontario legislature before the provincial election. Yesterday, it was re-introduced as Bill 52. The new bill promises to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits without unduly restricting legitimate legal action.

Participating in public debates and speaking out on issues that affect us and our neighbours, these are basic principles in our democracy. Too many Ontario residents have already suffered damaging and frivolous lawsuits, simply because they opposed development proposals or industry activities in their communities.

Unfortunately, SLAPP suits seem to be becoming more frequent, with more developers and corporations using these lawsuits as a shady tactic to intimidate and silence people. And they work. How many of us would keep opposing an issue when faced with a lawsuit?

In absence of legislation, the attacks keep coming. In Burlington, Ont., members of the Rural Burlington Greenbelt Coalition were slapped with a frivolous defamation claim for challenging massive fill dumping at a local airport in the Greenbelt. In North Dumfries, Ont., the Concerned Residents of North Dumfries (CRAND) face a $220,000 cost award from a gravel company for participating in a two day OMB hearing.

Free speech and public debate are essential to a civil society. That’s why over 60 municipalities, PEN Canada, the Ontario Bar Association, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, Canadian Journalist for Free Expression  and over 150 environmental organizations and many academics support bringing in anti-SLAPP legislation.

This proposed law is good for Ontario and good for democracy. It should receive widespread support from all political parties.  We congratulate the Ontario government on stepping up to table to put an end to SLAPP suits.

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