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Stop the Assault on Democratic Rights

I sent a letter on behalf of over 200 people to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of BC asking that Bill M223 - Anti-SLAPP Act 2015 - proceed to second reading and Committee for discussion. We believe that Bill M223 is crucial for democracy in B.C. because it will empower courts to identify and prevent strategic lawsuits against public participation – or SLAPPs – and thereby stop the assault on democratic rights.

Residents of B.C. clearly understand the need to stop SLAPPs. Many residents were directly involved, or supported, peaceful protests and speaking out against Texas oil giant, Kinder Morgan, and the dramatic expansion of the shipping of diluted bitumen across the province and through crowded Burrard Inlet and coastal waters.

When Kinder Morgan sued five organizers for $5.6 million, residents of Burnaby realized that corporations were using the courts as a battleground to silence and intimidate people from exercising their democratic right to speak out at meetings, writing letters to editors and posting on social media. As an editorial in the Burnaby Now questioned:

“What happens if you are at a protest and someone throws a brick through a window? Could you be sued because you're an easy face to pick out of the crowd? Dutton took this case [Dutton v. Kinder Morgan] on to stand up for freedom of expression and the right to protest, but the judge's decision raises serious questions about how we can exercise those [civil and political] rights.”

The assault on fundamental civil and political rights in Canada has become so severe that anti-SLAPP legislation has been enacted in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario. Anti-SLAPP legislation was enacted in Ontario on the basis of recommendations made by the Anti-SLAPP Advisory Panel made up of legal experts appointed by the Attorney General of Ontario. The Panel received extensive input from the public and concluded that; “threats of lawsuits for speaking out on matters of public interest, combined with a number of actual lawsuits, deter significant numbers of people from participating in discussions on such matters.”

Other commonwealth countries like Australia and New Zealand have also enacted anti-SLAPP legislation to protect civil and political rights from the corporate assault on democracy. A majority of states in the USA have also been forced to enact anti-SLAPP legislation despite the more robust protections of rights under the US Constitution.

In fact, without anti-SLAPP legislation, B.C. risks becoming the province where the costs of speaking out are simply too high and where those with greater financial resources control the narrative on important social, political and economic issues. In our view public participation will continue to be significantly diminished because of the threat of speaking out if anti-SLAPP legislation is not enacted.

Not only is enacting anti-SLAPP legislation essential to support public participation in B.C., it will also help Canada comply with international treaties like the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ICCPR was signed by the federal government as binding international law but never implemented. Canada has begun to realize that international law is important and today signed a declaration on Indigenous rights. Now is the time to draw international attention of the need for Canada to implement the ICCPR and abide by international treaties. How can Canada hope to join the prestigious United Nations Security Council, when it has failed to implement treaty obligations and law?

Our Plan of Action

The fight for democratic rights has never been easy and we have no illusions about the difficulty of passing legislation at both the provincial and federal levels of government. Nevertheless we must continue:

• building pressure for law reform and the implementation of international binding treaties. The timing could not be better; there is a provincial election in one year and the federal Liberal government is aiming for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Support our campaign to lobby for a federal government committee to oversee and monitor the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that Canada signed but has not implemented or is in compliance.

• documenting the problem of the corporate assault on democratic rights in B.C. and make these court cases a matter of legal and social importance. Some judges have already recognized the problem of SLAPPs and one former Supreme Court judge has spoken out.

We have had remarkable success

As a result of winning the battle for for public and media support coupled with my (Dutton v. Trans Mountain) application to have Kinder Morgan’s $5.6 million lawsuit dismissed as a strategic lawsuit:

• Kinder Morgan was forced to issue a unilateral discontinuance thus ending the lawsuit;

• Kinder Morgan was forced to pay approximately twenty percent of court expenses, and;

• Bill M223 - Anti-SLAPP Act 2015 was introduced in the B.C. Legislature to stop the corporate assault on civil and political rights.

Public support for Alan Dutton’s and other lawsuits has been amazing. The battle continues and we ask that you please sign our petition on the West Coast Environmental website, if you have not already done so. Also, please go to our website and donate whatever you can to help us carry on this crucial work. With your continued help and support, we can protect freedom of speech, assembly, and access to justice. It’s not easy but we can do it if we continue to keep up the pressure on governments and elected officials.