Our fight for freedom of speech is ongoing it seems. The anti SLAPP Bill was touted as a wonderful thing in the media in December, but they only read the government press release, not the (altered) fine print of the Bill. ~ Esther
Dear Members of Legislature,
The anti-SLAPP Bill 52 is not the same creature that was previously proposed as Bill 83 a year ago. In short, every person or organization that you all passionately spoke for, who were facing SLAPP suits, willnotbe protected by the new Bill 52. There was a change in the wording about who would now be eligible for protection by this Bill. Before, that date was to be left open to the discretion of the Lieutenant Governor. In the current version as Bill 52, the effective date is the day it receives Royal Assent. So basically because we (those facing SLAPP suits) weren’t sued on a current enough date, we do not ‘qualify’ for this Bill’s protection.
I don’t believe I was being naïve in thinking that this legislation should have helped ALL affected by SLAPP suits. On June 26th, 2013, shortly after I was sued by Florida based wind turbine developer NextEra Energy, the Attorney General John Gerretson wrote my MPP Monte McNaughton this: “I can tell you that if Bill 83 is passed, the rule will apply to suits brought before the bill comes into force, thus allowing for dismissal of strategic litigation after a fast-track motion procedure.” But this is precisely what was changed in Bill 52 – I suppose it seemed only fair to Mr. Gerretson to extend the protection to all victims of SLAPPs, but then… something changed with the last election, and we were all swiftly abandoned.
If this seems like small potatoes, like a few SLAPP suits are no big deal – I’d argue that assumption straight up and down. It’s akin to saying the elimination of a voice, a satirical voice, yes such as cartoonists, is no loss for freedom of expression. It is. Not only does “lawfare” frighten those who speak out with a strong voice, it terrifies those with weaker voices into not having a voice at all.
Some examples of what I have witnessed in the two years I’ve been under the cloud of a SLAPP suit are:
· Suppression of Media: I had a reporter, who eventually wrote a story on the NextEra lawsuit for a large newspaper in Ontario, interview me by phone. He seemed to be very careful in what he asked, almost frightened, which at the time I couldn’t understand. He asked if my video of NextEra destroying the bald eagle nest was public, if it was safe to share. I told him it was publicly available on YouTube. What he was concerned about was writing or linking to something that could get him sued as well – I was shocked. In the end the video link was not published in his article. It was clear to me that the lawsuit prevented the press from feeling comfortable to report on the full story. If there had not been a SLAPP suit he would have readily posted the link to the eagle nest takedown video.
· Stifled Communication: A SLAPP suit makes the person sued a ‘liability’ to communicate with. People were cautious as to what they said to me over the phone or in e-mails – one neighbor wouldn’t even say the word ‘lawsuit’ to me on the phone. Perhaps irrational reactions, but this is the knee jerk response people had – they didn’t want to be taken down by this corporation – they fully supported me but were frightened that the same could happen to anyone who spoke ill of this company. It was frustrating for me as it hampered the frank discussions I would have with people – NextEra had yet again succeeded in their local ‘terror’ tactics, frightening opposition into silence.
· Tense relationships: My son came home from elementary school one day and told me a boy on the bus said, “your mom is an idiot for getting sued”. Because everyone who gets sued is guilty, a corporation couldn’t be in the wrong, could it? I felt terrible for him, having to defend my right to speak for the community, which was now in tatters from all the wind company cement trucks and blades moving in (over 200 turbines went up in Lambton-Middlesex last year). But you can see how being associated with a person who is sued is damaging.
· Repressed voices: Ontario-Wind-Resistance.org still has a perfectly legit satirical image of NextEra on it, but it is now hosted in Iceland where Freedom of Expression is practiced and protected with legislation. Since there is a lawsuit connected to the “NexTerror” image it is not a site that I feel comfortable handing over to another individual to operate – it just wouldn’t be right to drag another person into this revolting mess. So the lawsuit has also restricted others from becoming directly involved for fear they would be attacked with lawfare.
And I’ve moved. Out of the province to small town New Brunswick. Did the lawsuit force me to move? Yes, partly. Did NextEra, Suncor, WPD and the Ontario government force me to move? Absolutely. I never in my life dreamed of moving from the home and farm I was raised on. Fighting with every bone in me for the last 6 years was hard enough, without a lawsuit piled on top of it. NextEra knew exactly what it was doing. A huge corporation pretended to play victim in their Statement of Claim –they’ve been anything but a victim. The lawsuit is to be two years old in a few months, and I haven’t heard form NextEra in over a year. They like where they sit right now: me handicapped with a pending lawsuit, and they can continue to operate business as usual. No skin off their back.
With the change in the wording of Bill 52 I will continue to sit in SLAPP suit limbo for years and years to come, denied simple protection from the Ontario government unless the Bill is amended to cover ALL affected persons, not just those who will be sued ‘later’.
I ask that members of legislature review Bill 52 with this in mind, knowing that there are many others who are in the same abandoned predicament and look to you to make the changes to this Bill so that it is fair, accessible and just for everyone.
St. Andrews, NB