Bill 52 is more properly described as “An Act to amend the Courts of Justice Act, the Libel and Slander Act and the Statutory Powers Procedure Act in order to protect expression on matters of public interest.” It amends the existing “Courts of Justice” Act by: “…adding the following sections: “Prevention of Proceedings that Limit Freedom of Expression on Matters of Public Interest (Gag Proceedings).”
I like to think that I keep myself up-to-date on matters pertaining to free speech, so I was quite startled (as well as pleased!) to read Toronto Sun solicitor-emeritus Alan Shanoff’s column advising of the Act becoming law. Essentially speaking, the law is aimed at preventing harassing lawsuits in which one party deprives the other of the freedom to express opinions by the commencement of frivolous lawsuits intended to tie up the other in endless, expensive litigation.
Alan Shanoff’s excellent articles are not always on subjects of interest to me, but the combination of his name and the heading “Protecting free speech” were sufficient to get my instant attention. This continued uninterrupted until I had thoroughly read the article, and drafted and sent in a letter-to-the-editor.
The legislation is brand new, hasn’t yet been resorted to by anybody under such an attack, and is thus devoid of precedent. I will be watching for its usage, as precedents can be either good or bad; if a member of the Law Union of Ontario (*) is involved in any such proceedings, in any capacity, we can reasonably expect that efforts will be made to deny the benefits of the Bill to anybody who fails to pass muster in terms of “political correctness”.
The immediate beneficiaries of Bill 52 will likely be those who are subjected to “lawfare” by Muslim organizations through accusations of “Islamophobia”, and I am providing a link to my article “Paul Fromm’s decades of fighting Section 13 ignored” regarding the demise of Canada’s notorious “Section 13” censorship law, and the persons behind it.
There are always several different things going on at once, and they are not always obvious to the casual observer…
Then again, those contemplating frivolous lawsuits will now be more likely to utilize the services of the various “human rights” commissions to be found throughout Canada. Although slam-dunk guilty findings can no longer be counted on, the “politically correct” inclinations of the commissions and their officials can be counted on far more than those of the judiciary in general; we shall see.
My letter was published exactly two weeks later, to my considerable surprise, as my publication rate has been way down over the last year or so. It was little changed from the original, and here it is:
Bill 52. Who Knew?
Re “Protecting free speech” (Alan Shanoff, Nov. 22): Although I maintain a general awareness of free speech issues, I was completely unaware of Bill 52, the Protection of Public Participation Act. The idea of enabling anybody to speak out without fear of “strategic lawsuits” – also known as lawfare – being used to cripple them financially, is a welcome change from the past. I consider it illogical and profoundly anti-democratic for the courts to have to decide who is right and who is wrong simply on the basis of who has the most money available to present evidence and bring witnesses. The lack of established precedent will still make it expensive for the first defendants to utilize this new legislation. So, as the underlying concern here is to strengthen and protect the public interest, perhaps public funds could be set aside for those who must pioneer its usage, should they be successful. But as Shanoff says, “A better solution would be to require prior judicial approval to be obtained, before these lawsuits are even allowed to be commenced.”
(Shanoff’s always logical about these issues)
I hope that my suggestion that funds be provided to soften the blow for those who use this legislation to successfully defend themselves falls upon sympathetic ears, although Shanoff’s “better solution” referred to at the end of my letter would be far preferable – somewhat of a “preliminary hearing” to determine the merits and intent of any proposed action and its sponsors.
It will be interesting to see how this works out!
See Alan Shanoff’s column “Protecting free speech” here.
See my letter in the Toronto Sun here.
See the Ontario Legislative Assembly website entry for Bill 52-2015 here.
See my column “Paul Fromm’s decades of fighting Section 13 ignored” (Nov. 2011) here.
(*) – See the Law Union of Ontario’s website here.