The Power of SLAPP To Shut Quebecers Up

By Andrea Archibald, staff writer

Some believe that SLAPP is infringing on Quebecers’ rights to freedom of expression

MONTREAL (RPRN) 5/21/2009–Earlier this month, as reported by RushPRNews (RPRN), a peaceful protest was held against the municipal pound Inspecteur Canin. Approximately 200 animal-rights activist and supporters demonstrated outside the Saint-Lin-Laurentides, Quebec location. Among them was Louise Auger, currently being sued by Inspecteur Canin for defamation, which many believe to be a SLAPP. 

As litigation is still pending, Auger could not speak to RPRN. Among the charges was a request that no more than three people be allowed to protest. Although the defamation suit is still pending in the courts, the request was quickly overturned.

Speaking with Nicole Joncas over the phone, a source close to Auger, she contests that Auger is the victim of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). SLAPP suits are characterized by large corporations intending to intimidate their critics into silence through lengthy and expensive legal proceedings. The Quebec publisher Écosociété, along with three of its authors, for example, is currently being sued by both Barrick Gold and Banro Corporation for a combined $11 million.

Advocates say SLAPP lawsuits are legitimized corporate bullying that threaten individuals’ fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly.

Although illegal in 25 States, there has yet to be any legislation passed in Canada. Currently, Bill 9, introduced April 7 2009, sits in front of Quebec’s National Assembly. If passed, it would be the first of its kind in Canada. The Bill grants defendants the right to ask the court to throw the suit out if deemed abusive, as well as the right to ask for a reimbursement of incurred legal costs. Not the first anti-SLAPP bill to go in front of the National Assembly, it has received support by both the Liberal Party and the Parti Québecois. Unlike its predecessor, Bill 9 would also hold company directors and officers personally. Once passed, the bill would apply immediately to all cases before the court.

Some critics claim that the Bill has not gone far enough to define a SLAPP suit. Other critics fear that, if passed, a company will no longer have the right to defend its reputation.

Prior to the May demonstration, Auger had sent letters to the mayors of the more than 30 municipalities holding contracts with Inspecteur Canin. Shortly thereafter, according to a source close to Auger, one contract was canceled, and the purchasing of several animals was stopped. It is believed that this is central to the lawsuit.

Another demonstration is scheduled for Saturday May 23 2009 at 1 PM, outside of the St-Charles-Borromé Joliette location. “We want [Inspecteur Canin] to know that we’re there; we’re not backing off,” says Joncas. “Our freedoms cannot be touched.”

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