Thanks to the Ontario government, citizens will now be able to participate in public debates without fear of being slapped with a lawsuit.
Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) silence public debate and put a chill on free speech. Today the Protection of Public Participation Act passed third reading and will now become law in the Ontario legislature. The new law promises to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits without restricting legitimate legal recourse by anyone who is legitimately slandered or libelled.
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 risky industry activities in their communities.
In the past, SLAPP suits were frequently used by developers and corporations as a shady tactic to intimidate and silence people. And they worked. How many of us would keep opposing an issue when faced with an expensive and time-consuming lawsuit?
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, the Canadian Environmental Law Association and over 150 environmental organizations and many academics supported bringing in anti-SLAPP legislation. We can now say the Ontario government listened and has acted.
This new law is good for Ontario and good for democracy. We congratulate the Ontario government on stepping up to the table to put an end to SLAPP suits and protect free speech in Ontario.