SLAPPs: A Burgeoning Practice Area

Supreme Court of Canada
Supreme Court of Canada. Photo credit: Anthony Ho.

SLAPP* litigation is quickly becoming a practice area in its own right. All three of Canada’s largest provinces now have anti-SLAPP laws on the books. The most recent province to join this group is British Columbia, where in 2019 the Legislature unanimously voted to reinstate an anti-SLAPP law after its first legislative foray into the area (and Canada’s first anti-SLAPP law) was repealed soon after enactment in 2001.

The volume and variety of the litigation arising from these laws are impressive. Relatively few of the cases arise in the context of the archetypal Goliath vs. David showdowns that many understood such laws were designed to regulate. Many relate to statements made online on various social media platforms. To help offer some guidance on the meaning of the new Ontario legislation, the Court of Appeal adjudicated six of the early appeals arising under the law together. Two of the decisions in this group – 1704604 Ontario Ltd. v. Pointes Protection Association and Platnick v. Bent – later went on to the Supreme Court of Canada. Its decisions in Pointes and Platnick were handed down in 2020.

The SCC is now poised to hear another SLAPP appeal – Neufeld v. Hansman – the first case of its kind to interpret B.C.’s new anti-SLAPP law, which is closely modelled on its Ontario counterpart.

Tollefson Law has experience and history around the SLAPP issue going back to the early 1990s. In 1994, our Principal authored the first academic analysis of the SLAPP phenomenon in Canada and was closely involved in later efforts to design and implement legislative responses to the problem – both in his home province of B.C., and in Ontario. Recently, Tollefson Law represented a client in their efforts to secure dismissal of a defamation lawsuit arising in response to citizen advocacy for environmental protection issues. The background to and issues presented by the case have been covered in stories in the The Narwhal and The Tyee. The case was argued in February 2022, and the decision is currently on reserve at the B.C. Supreme Court.

Providing effective representation to clients in these kinds of cases is demanding and the stakes are high. If you believe you have been SLAPPed or are being threatened with a defamation lawsuit for speaking out on a matter of public interest, you should consult a lawyer with experience in this area. We would be happy to talk.

For further information on Tollefson Law’s past work, please refer to the Case Highlights in the Pacific Center for Environmental Law & Litigation (“CELL”) 2022 Special Edition Newsletter. CELL is a registered charity that operates alongside Tollefson Law to provide law students exposure to environmentally-focused litigation.

*Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation

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