Statement from Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur on the Introduction of the Protection of Public Participation Act
Queen's Park Toronto
Check against delivery
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to reintroduce legislation originally brought forward by my predecessor, the Honourable John Gerretsen in 2013.
As the members will recall, the proposed Protection of Public Participation Act seeks to balance the protection of public participation and freedom of expression and the protection of reputation and economic interests.
I am pleased to be giving new life to this important bill.
It has been said that one of the greatest things about living in a fair and democratic society is that we are free to speak out on matters that are important to us.
As citizens of a province that values equality, justice and openness, we know that, when we see wrongdoing by another, we should not hesitate to call that person out.
When we strongly believe that the well-being of our community is at stake -- even at the hands of those wealthier or more powerful than us -- in Ontario, we should feel free to speak our minds.
And we should trust that, if needed, our justice system will be there to defend that freedom.
In a strategic lawsuit, a party chooses to exploit this imbalance by taking a weaker opponent to court with a frivolous claim.
Sometimes these cases have little merit, and most are dropped before the suit goes to trial -- perhaps weeks or even months later.
Meanwhile, the damage is done. Exhausted and financially drained, the target of a strategic suit is effectively silenced.
Just last month, I launched Better Justice Together, a strategy aimed at building a more accessible justice system.
We will do this by:
- expanding online services;
- investing in affordable legal services, and;
- promoting innovation in the ways we and our justice partners do business and work together.
Based on the consensus recommendations of an expert panel, today's bill reflects just the kind of innovative thinking and collaborative approach that our strategy aims to inspire across our justice system.
The centrepiece of our bill is a fast-track review process for lawsuits alleged to be strategic, rather than legitimate.
This special legal test would be used to determine whether or not a suit should be allowed to proceed.
In applying the test, the courts would seek to balance the interests at stake.
If the court finds that the person who initiates legal action is likely to suffer serious harm, the case would be allowed to continue.
But if little or no harm is likely, then the technical merits of the case would yield to the value of public debate, and the suit would be quickly dismissed.
At least in court, this could help put parties on a more equal footing.
But make no mistake: protecting freedom of expression and debate does not give anyone the right to unfairly attack an opponent in a public forum.
Reputation is one of the most valuable assets a person or business can possess. That's why we've worked hard to develop a proposal that balances the interests of both plaintiffs and defendants.
I am very proud of the bill we are presenting to the members today, because it supports some of our most cherished values as Ontarians.
The ability to freely participate in public discussion about matters of public interest, without fear of retribution, is a hallmark of a fair and democratic society.
It is a defining feature of our province that I think we can all agree is worth defending.
I call upon the members to support this bill.