Ontario Protecting Freedom of Expression
Government to Introduce Legislation to Safeguard Public Participation in Debate
Ontario is taking steps to protect open dialogue in debates on matters of public interest.
Ontario will introduce legislation today that, if passed, would allow courts to quickly identify and deal with strategic lawsuits. The proposed legislation would prevent the unwarranted silencing of critics and minimize the time and resources wasted by plaintiffs, defendants and the courts on meritless claims. This made-in-Ontario solution strikes a necessary balance between protecting public debate and allowing legitimate claims to proceed in a timely manner.
The proposed law is based on extensive stakeholder consultations and the consensus recommendations of an expert advisory panel to provide a faster, more efficient process to address these strategic lawsuits and provide greater clarity for the parties involved.
The ability to freely participate in public discussion about matters of public interest is part of the new Ontario government's plan to build a fair society for all.
- A strategic lawsuit is when one party uses litigation to intimidate opponents and reduce their ability to participate in public debate, and to deter others from participating in discussions on matters of public interest.
- 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 proposed law would include a fast-track review process, which requires that a request to dismiss must be heard by the courts within 60 days.
- While laws to help defend citizens against strategic lawsuits are common in the U.S., in Canada, only Quebec has a similar law.
“We live in a fair and democratic society, and we believe that this law will provide a balanced approach that recognizes both the right to public expression and the importance of protection of reputation.”