Legal defence fund needs transparency and accountability before it gets as much as a dime.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

June 30, 2014


The Rural Burlington Greenbelt Coalition (RBGC) has created a web site to raise funds for what they are calling the Burlington Airpark SLAPP Suit Defense Fund.

A SLAPP Suit (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) is a merit-less legal action brought to intimidate opponents, deplete their resources, reduce their ability to participate in public affairs, and deter others from participating in discussion on matters of public interest.

We, the Burlington Gazette and me, Pepper Parr seem to be a part of it – but until a colleague told us about this fund raising web site – we knew nothing about it other than there were plans to put up a web site to solicit funds to help with the legal costs to defend ourselves against the law suit that has been filed against us by the Burlington Executive Air Park Inc.

Support is certainly going to be needed but this is not the way to get it.

First, the web site focuses on what it calls a SLAPP suit, unfortunately in law there is no such thing at this point in time.  There should be such a thing but in a court of law what should be and what is – are two very, very different things.  Judges go on evidence and precedent.

There is no SLAPP suit; there are no such things as SLAPP suits.  The legal counsel representing Vanessa Warren and Monte Dennis have a vested interests in promoting legislation that would prevent SLAPP suits – and good on them.  What they are advocating is necessary; should have been done years ago.

David Donnelly of Donnelly Environmental Law, and Brian MacLeod Rogers, a leading libel lawyer and member of the Attorney General’s Anti-SLAPP Advisory Panel have been advocating for SLAPP legislation for some time.  Both will become specialists in this niche market and do some good work.  We assume some of the funds donated will go to Donnelly and Rogers.

Rogers represents both Warren and Dennis.  Parr and the Gazette have different legal counsel and a different legal strategy.  The word SLAPP will never leave our lips in our defence arguemts.

What the Gazette, Parr, Warren and Monte are facing is a libel suit where the plaintiff is seeking $100,000 in exemplary damages from the three of us.  It’s a significant case and only fools try to pretend the case is something other than what it is.

At some point there may be anti SLAPP legislation.  But we do not have that now.  What we do have now is a court case – and some financial support fighting that case would be welcome.  But from the Gazette’s point of view,  not under the terms and conditions the Rural Burlington Greenbelt Coalition is asking for donations.

The RBGC does not say what will be done with the funds; they do not say how any funds received will be distributed; they do not say they will be accountable to the donors and report on exactly where every nickel goes.

It is just a request for financial support – and I guess they are saying trust us.  Neither the Gazette nor Pepper Parr will be accepting any funds you may choose to donate until there are solid rules in place for the accounting of funds.

It looks as if the funds are going to the RBGC – but that isn’t clear.  Were it not for the fact that I know these people personally I would look upon this as one of the dozens of internet scams that show up in my email box every day.

I expect the highest possible level of transparency and accountability from the people mounting this fund raising campaign.  The web site they have up right now is the equivalent of what a couple of high school students might do because they didn’t know any better.

RBGC should know better – the candidate for public office should know better; if this is the way Vanessa Warren is going to conduct herself as a member of city council – she will be worse than the incumbent. The city Clerk has a form available for those who feel they want to withdraw from the election.

The fund raising web site does an excellent job of setting out the problem and what the issues are about – they just lost their focus and are talking about something that doesn’t exist – yet.

The Rural Burlington Greenbelt Coalition fund raising web site .


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2 comments to Legal defence fund needs transparency and accountability before it gets as much as a dime.

  • Pat

    Dear Mr. Goulet,

    What if a donor is NOT a member of your Coalition? I suspect most of us city dwellers are not.

    Are you suggesting that every donor must now join your Coalition, otherwise s/he would not be privy to the full accounting and accountability process of the funds donated?

    With all due respect, your reporting framework sounds anything but transparent or inclusive–and has really turned me off.

  • Roger Goulet, Executive Director PERL

    Rural Burlington Greenbelt Coalition (RBGC) is advocating for anti-SLAPP legislation in Ontario. Such legislation currently exists in 28 US states and in Quebec. Ontario should pass legislation aimed at protecting our democratic rights to responsibly comment on public issues. The proposed Ontario legislature Bill 83 dealing with this injustice died when the election was called.

    RBGC is hoping to raise funds to help pay for the legal costs in defending the law suit brought by the Burlington Airpark, which our lawyers consider as a SLAPP suit. All the monies raised will be used to pay for a good legal defence, which will be expensive. An account has been opened at the Royal Bank of Canada, on-which co-signatories must authorize payments. RBGC has set up a PayPal account to process donations; PayPal funds will be transferred directly into the RBC account. All funds will be accounted for and reported to Rural Burlington Greenbelt Coalition members’ executives and boards.

    Roger Goulet
    PERL, an RBGC member