Delivered By Anna Baggio:
Thank you for allowing me to appear before you today on this very important bill. My name is Anna Baggio and I am the Director of Conservation Planning for CPAWS Wildlands League.
We are a not-for-profit charity that has been working in the public interest to protect public lands and resources in Ontario since 1968, beginning with a campaign to protect Algonquin Park from industrial development. We have extensive knowledge of land use in Ontario and a history of working with governments (provincial, federal, Aboriginal and municipal), communities, scientists, the public and resource industries on progressive conservation initiatives. We have specific experience with impacts of industrial development on boreal forests and wildlife that depend on them, as well as dedicated protected areas establishment and management expertise.
We believe that strategic litigation against public participation (or SLAPPs) is a growing problem in Ontario.
It is a critical core function of our work that we are able create solutions that are in the public interest and to be able to communicate them freely to the media, industry, First Nations, governments and the public without fear of being sued and bankrupted. This is getting harder and harder in today’s climate. It is our view, and we share it with Canadian Environmental Law Association and many other groups, that by stifling the public’s willingness to engage in public participation, SLAPPs fundamentally threaten our democratic process.
We also know this matters to individual members of the public because they tell us and call us looking for help.
We have some direct experiences we’d like to briefly highlight.
- After we participated in public consultations regarding a new mine in northern Ontario and communicated to our members and the public, our organization received a threatening legal letter from the company. Thankfully the company didn’t follow through but threat of legal action now seems to be the go to response of some members of that industry;
- Currently there have been a flurry of legal cases surrounding forestry. With lawsuits, there are only winners and losers. Moreover, lawsuits require retreat to legal corners and stifle opportunities for open dialogue and creative solutions.
- We have also seen politicians voting to censure public voices including our own on issues related to forestry. This is having the effect of creating an atmosphere where it becomes acceptable to seek to quiet science-based voices & not encourage their participation.
While we have been threatened with legal action, we have not yet had to face a lawsuit. One of our employees, however, has first-hand experience, as he is a member of KI, a small First Nation located 600 km NW of Thunder Bay. We have worked with KI for years and were appalled to witness Platinex, a mining exploration company, bringing a lawsuit against them. I asked John Cutfeet to share with me his thoughts so I could relay them to you today.
This is from John and I quote: “In 2006, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) was sued for $10 billion dollars, which was designed to intimidate, silence and financially cripple KI for speaking out against a drilling program, where the company was provided “quiet access” to the land, without the knowledge or consent of the people. The Company asked the Court to rule that any monies coming into KI be set aside to pay for the damages for which they were suing Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, an impoverished First Nation community.”
“A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suit was used to essentially violate the Indigenous right of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) and disregard Supreme Court law, which requires meaningful consultation and accommodation, plus the reconciliation of the Aboriginal interest with competing interests. SLAPP suits also discount the Aboriginal and Treaty Rights that are recognized, affirmed and entrenched in Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution. SLAPP suits have no place when dealing with Indigenous Rights that are covered in the highest laws of the land. It only wastes precious resources and time for Indigenous communities like Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug. Plus, it represents a travesty of justice when laws pertaining to Indigenous Peoples are not recognized and enforced.”
I’d also like to clear up some confusion that may exist about Bill 52. “It has been suggested that Bill 52 would prevent individuals and corporations from protecting themselves against an unfair and untrue ‘smear campaign’. This is not accurate. The proposed legislation does not change the law on defamation, it only creates a new procedure to help ensure the Court’s resources and powers are not being used to shut down legitimate public debate and discussion”.
We support this bill and encourage the Legislature to enact it. We agree that the core feature of this bill which sets out the test for dismissal seeks to carefully balance the need to protect and promote freedom of expression in matters of public interest with the need to safeguard a person’s reputational, business or personal interests. And we would not support any amendment to the test which would weaken it and undermine the objectives of the bill.
We understand that the bill, if passed, will apply retroactively to the date of First Reading. We recommend that the bill be amended to apply retroactively to an earlier date, perhaps to the date of the Anti-SLAPP Advisory Panel report (Oct 28, 2010).
Thank you for your time today.
 From Fact Sheet: Bill 52 – Ontario’s Protection of Public Participation Act by Canadian Civil Liberties Association and and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression see http://www.cela.ca/sites/cela.ca/files/Bill-52-Fact-Sheet-CCLA-and-CJFE.pdf