Aurora Citizen

News & Views from the Citizens of Aurora Ontario

CCLA views Aurora lawsuit as potential SLAPP

Posted by auroracitizen on November 3, 2010

Reprinted from the October 2010 ebulletin from The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (highlight added by AuroraCitizen)

SLAPP Lawsuits On The Rise

In August of this year, the CCLA made submissions to the Attorney General’s Advisory Panel on Anti-SLAPPs.  This panel is considering the issue of how to prevent strategic litigation against public participation (also known as SLAPPs).  SLAPPs are lawsuits started against individuals or groups who speak out or take a position on an issue of public interest.  As the Advisory Panel’s website states: “The purpose of a SLAPP is to silence critics by redirecting their energy and finances into defending a lawsuit and away from their original public criticism.”

In our submissions, the CCLA argued in favour of robust anti-SLAPP legislation and made proposals to ensure that, if such legislation is passed, it is effective.  In particular, the CCLA proposed the creation of an independent public agency to assist SLAPP defendants and insure that fundamental freedoms are not stifled by strategic litigation.

Over the years, the CCLA has intervened in a number of SLAPP cases to try to ensure that civil lawsuits are not used as tools to curb debate and discussion on matters of public importance.  Recently, the CCLA has learned of a number of lawsuits that appear to do just that.  One is a lawsuit started by the Mayor of the Town of Aurora against a number of individuals who posted to a local blog and criticized her leadership.

The Mayor is seeking over $6 million in damages and will also be asking the Court for orders disclosing the identities of individuals who posted to the blog anonymously. The lawsuit is being funded by the town’s Council.

Perhaps the most well-known recent SLAPP case is the claim for defamation started by Toronto police officer Adam Josephs, also known as “Officer Bubbles”.  Josephs was captured on video telling a young woman during the G20 that he would arrest her if she didn’t stop blowing bubbles.

The video went viral and spawned a series of animated cartoons depicting “Officer Bubbles” engaged in a variety of abusive police behaviour.  Several people also commented on the videos on YouTube, calling the officer names and harshly criticizing the way in which he performs his duties.  Officer Josephs has now launched a lawsuit, seeking over $1 million from YouTube and several of the anonymous posters who posted the cartoons and commented on them.  The CCLA is particularly concerned about this lawsuit because it compounds the limits on free expression that were experienced by peaceful protestors during the G20 and may result in silencing individuals who have legitimate concerns about G20 policing.  The CCLA is urging Officer Josephs to drop his lawsuit.

6 Responses to “CCLA views Aurora lawsuit as potential SLAPP”

  1. Elizabeth Bishenden said

    The legal fees for Bill Hogg, Richard Johnson and Elizabeth Bishenden are being paid privately. Our lawyer is not working on a pro bono basis.

    The lawyers at Aird and Bairliss are being paid through town funds. They are not working on a pro bono basis.

    The lawyer working for Johnson, Hogg and Bishenden has indicated that there would be no reduction in our legal fees if the CCLA became involved in the case.

    • Luckywife said

      Thank you Elizabeth for the clarification.

      I’m very sorry that you all have to go through this. It galls me that there may be no way to hold the individuals that voted for this travesty to account. I hope in the end there will be some way to at least re-coup your financial losses.

      Best regards,

    • October Came, Thanks were Given said

      Well it looks like this ‘Defamation of Character’ issue isn’t going away by itself, but I’m sure it will go away. If Phyllis is sticking us with her legal costs hopefully the new council will take action to recover the money somehow.

      This has become not defamation but ‘revelation’ of character on her part.

  2. Luckywife said

    I am glad to see the CCLA take an interest in the ridiculous farce.

    However, that does not change the fact the every day that this is allowed to continue it generates income for some lawyer. Has it escaped anyone’s notice that the defendants being sued are actually being asked to bear legal costs twice? Once direct and again through tax dollars?

    How’s that for a conflict of interest?

    Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching.

    • Really strapped said

      Is it normally possible for law firms in this country to accept cases on a “pro bono” basis?

    • Luckywife said

      I don’t know to be honest. I know someone who is suing another party and they are not paying for the suit or the costs, but that is a personal injury suit. Not sure if it would work the same for a defamation suit. The deal is that the legal firm gets 30% of the settlement if there is one, which is most likely or they wouldn’t have taken the case. In the case of the AC, they aren’t suing so I couldn’t even guess at the cost of defending this suit or even if there is an organization like the CCLA that helps citizens being sued by Government.

      As for the Mayor’s lawyer, I guess as long as the taxpayers are paying their fees, it’s a non-issue.


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