Date published: Thursday, February 19, 2015
The Ontario Government’s proposed ‘Protection of Public Participation Act’ doesn’t actually protect public participation and in fact simply creates more work for lawyers says the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM).
“MPPs from all parties support legislation that will genuinely protect people from being shut out of public participation out of fear of legal action. What Members said in the legislature and that this bill does not address, is the fact that even being able to threaten someone with a SLAPP suit (strategic lawsuit against public participation) is enough to shut some people down, because they can’t afford a lawyer to defend themselves,” said Al Spacek, President of FONOM.
According to the Attorney General “…the bill aims to protect expression of matters of public interest. What the bill would do is let a court review lawsuits brought against such expression at an early stage. It would then be up to the court to decide whether the expression at issue is likely to cause serious harm. If so, the court may allow the lawsuit to continue in the normal course of litigation.” (Hansard, December 10, 2014 – Second Reading Debate of Bill 52)
FONOM has called for the Attorney General to amend the legislation to require the party initiating the lawsuit to submit their proposed lawsuit to an officer of the court, prior to it being filed, to ensure that no innocent party is caught up in an unfair lawsuit that is designed to prevent public participation. This would ensure public participation is protected from even the threat of a lawsuit, as opposed to the Government’s solution, which is would still force someone to ring up a legal bill defending themselves.
If Bill 52 became law, individuals like the mom in rural Ontario who was sued by a massive energy company for mocking their corporate identity, while opposing a project she believed would harm her children, would still be forced to represent themselves against Bay Street lawyers or try to string together the resources to hire a lawyer to defend her. In that case, the company suing her has made it clear they will seek financial damages and donate the proceeds to the United Way. The mother has since uprooted her family and left the province.
“We do need legislation that protects public participation in a meaningful way, and this legislation doesn’t do that. As written, it empowers those who are being sued to ring up legal bills for their victims by forcing them to participate in this extra process, and in the case where the person being sued is innocent, it forces them to hire a lawyer to prove it,” said Spacek.
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Mayor Al Spacek