Ontario Passes Law to Protect Freedom of Expression
Province Works to End Strategic Lawsuits That Stifle Free Speech
Today Ontario passed an act that protects freedom of speech on matters of public interest.
The Protection of Public Participation Act, 2015 will allow the public to participate more freely in public discussions without fear of retribution by giving them a better way to defend themselves against strategic lawsuits, commonly known as SLAPPs (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation). The threat of a strategic lawsuit, which can be lengthy and expensive, is often used as a means to intimidate or punish opponents and discourage others from speaking out.
The new act, which will become law in Ontario upon Royal Assent, contains a number of elements that will reduce the risk of citizens being threatened with legal action when speaking out on matters of public interest, including:
- A new fast-track review process that will allow the courts to quickly identify and deal with strategic lawsuits
- New protections for individuals from defamation lawsuits when their concerns are reported to the public through a third party, such as a blogger or a reporter
- Faster and less expensive procedures at boards and tribunals that will allow parties to make written submissions about legal costs instead of making submissions in person.
Improving access to justice supports the province’s strategy to build Better Justice Together, a commitment to make the justice system simpler, faster and less expensive for all Ontarians, and is part of the government’s plan to build Ontario up. The four-part plan includes investing in people’s talents and skills, making the largest investment in public infrastructure in Ontario’s history, creating a dynamic and innovative environment where business thrives, and building a secure retirement savings plan.
- The majority of strategic lawsuits are filed in court as claims of defamation (libel or slander), have little or no merit, and are often dropped before proceeding to trial.
- The Protection of Public Participation Act, 2015 is based on extensive stakeholder consultations and the consensus recommendations of an expert advisory panel to provide a faster, more efficient process to address strategic lawsuits and provide greater clarity for the parties involved.
“I am pleased to see our government play a leading role in ending litigation that stifles free speech. This law embodies the values of justice, fairness and equality—all hallmarks of our great nation—by allowing citizens to speak out on public issues without fear of retribution.”
“The Ontario Bar Association applauds the Ontario government for passing the Protection for Public Participation Act. The act will ensure that individuals with legitimate lawsuits can carry them forward and that lawsuits aimed at silencing legitimate democratic debate can be disposed of more quickly and easily by the courts. The act further encourages public participation and democratic speech by removing significant barriers to dismissing lawsuits brought about by improper motives. The OBA has called for such legislation and is pleased to see it pass.”