Ontario reintroduces legislation to safeguard public participation in debate; will it impact the legal action the Air Park took against two citizens and the Gazette?

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

December 2, 2014



Ontario is taking steps to protect the freedom of people who speak out on matters of public interest. That is certainly good news to Vanessa Warren and Monte Denis who have been served with a libel claim by the owners of the air park for comments they made about the illegal landfill now on air park property.

The Gazette was also a party to that lawsuit that is slowly working its way through the courts.

Air-Park-construction-site - early

The Air Park has dumped tons of landfill on their property without site plan approval from the city. That action brought a strong response from the community – which angered the Air Park owner who proceeded to sue two citizens and the Burlington Gazette.


If passed, the Protection of Public Participation Act would give Ontario courts a more effective process for identifying and dealing with strategic lawsuits. The proposed law would minimize the time and resources wasted by plaintiffs, defendants and the courts on meritless claims, while allowing legitimate complaints to proceed in a timely manner.

The ability to freely participate in public discussion about matters of public interest, without fear of retribution, is fundamental to a fair and democratic society.

The reintroduction of the Protection of Public Participation Act is part of Ontario’s strategy to build Better Justice Together, a commitment to work together with partners to make the justice system simpler, faster and less expensive for all Ontarians.
In its media release the province said:

Vince Rossi at a meeting with north Burlington residents.  He took everything the resident had to say under advisement.  Justice John Murray told Rossi that he had to apply with the city's bylaw.  Now what?

Vince Rossi at a meeting with north Burlington residents. Some time after this meeting Rossi sued the owner of the farm property where the meeting was held and another citizen. His lawsuit included the Burlington Gazette.

In a strategic lawsuit, commonly known as a SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation), a person or company uses the threat of a lengthy and expensive lawsuit as a way to intimidate an opponent, discouraging others from speaking out.

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 legislation includes a fast-track review process. A request to dismiss the case must be heard by the courts within 60 days.

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 strategic lawsuits and provide greater clarity for the parties involved.

Madeleine Meilleur, Attorney General for the province said: “Using a strategic lawsuit to silence an opponent is not only an unfair way to win an argument, but an undemocratic restriction on freedom of expression. Our government is standing up for the values that Ontarians cherish most by helping our courts identify and address strategic lawsuits, while ensuring those with legitimate claims to defamation are heard.”

Ramani Nadarajah, Counsel, Canadian Environmental Law Association said: “Anti-SLAPP legislation will ensure Ontarians who engage in the democratic process are protected from meritless lawsuits intended to silence them from voicing their concerns on matters of public interest. The new legislation is consistent with the laws in other jurisdictions which have taken measures to prevent SLAPPs.”

David Sterns, 2nd vice-president, Ontario Bar Association, and member of the Ontario Bar Association’s Anti-SLAPP working group said: “As an advocate for a fair and effective justice system, the Ontario Bar Association called for a powerful tool that would prevent lawsuits aimed at stifling public debate but would maintain access to justice for legitimate claims. Public confidence depends on the ability of our justice system to operate efficiently and to enhance democratic principles. Both of these goals are threatened by the bad-faith litigation that this new legislation is designed to curb. We commend the government for reintroducing the Protection for Public Participation Act and look for it to be passed swiftly into law.”

This is legislation that was on the Order Paper before the election was called. It is being re-introduced and should pass quickly. The question in the minds of Denis and Warren is – will the legislation be retroactive?

If not – they may yet have their day in court – and continue to write cheques made payable to their lawyer(s).

Related articles:

 Air Park owners sue two citizens and the Gazette for articles written and comments made.

“Lousy neighbour” appears to alter material on their web site.

Air Park owner writes a Letter to the Editor of newspaper he is suing.

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2 comments to Ontario reintroduces legislation to safeguard public participation in debate; will it impact the legal action the Air Park took against two citizens and the Gazette?

  • Anthony Pullin

    An anti-SLAPP bill was first tabled by Andrea Horwath in 2008 – nearly 7 years ago. SLAPP suits have been widely used by Proponents of Ontario ‘green energy’ projects to stifle opposition. The ability to levy a SLAPP suit has been an intrinsic benefit for the Ontario Government to ram through many contestable green energy projects. A Mayor, a Councilor and the Township of Muskoka Lakes had a $3m suit levied against them by the Proponent of a Hydro Project at the Bala Falls which they opposed.

    To the best of my knowledge, Kathleen Wynne still has a $2m SLAPP suit against Tim Hudac. No doubt, SLAPP suits have played an important role in helping this, and the previous government to enforce their agenda. Too little too late. As for retro-activity? I would hope that would be the case for Mr. Denis, Ms. Warren and the Gazette, but somehow I’m not optimistic.

  • Kurt Koster

    The decent thing to do for Mr Rossi is to withdraw the litigation after paying for the costs incurred to-date by the parties affected. Fat chance of that though.
    You have a lot of fence mending to do Mr Rossi, if you ever hope to get along with your neighbours.