Media Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SIX NORTHERN GROUPS URGE ALL PARTIES TO WORK TOGETHER TO PASS A LAW THAT PROTECTS FREE SPEECH

Thunder Bay, March 20, 2014 –Ontario Nature, Environment North, Citizens United for a Sustainable Planet, Lakehead University Student Union, the Thunder Bay Environmental Film Network and Thunder Bay Chapter of the Council of Canadians are calling on all northern MPPs to work together to pass Bill 83, the Protection of Public Participation Act.

They jointly issued a letter to Hon. Michael Gravelle.

Bill 83 is proposed to stop SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). These meritless lawsuits are usually brought forward by deep-pocketed companies to silence financially-vulnerable defendants. A panel of experts convened by the Ontario government in 2010 found that the threat of meritless lawsuits claiming massive damages, especially for defamation, is deterring “significant numbers” of Ontarians from speaking out on issues of important public interest.

“In recent years, we have seen an unprecedented erosion of our right to speak up on matters of public interest,” says Dr. Paul Berger of Citizens United for a Sustainable Planet. “Threats of lawsuits, combined with a number of actual lawsuits, are deterring significant numbers of people from participating in issues of public debate.”

This isn’t a new concern. In fact, NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, brought the issue to the forefront in 2008 when she introduced similar legislation to encourage more participation in public debate without fear of legal repercussions. The Progressive Conservatives have also asserted that meritless lawsuits represent a serious waste of taxpayer dollars. In May 2013, the Attorney General introduced Bill 83. Several northern MPPs, including John Vanthof of Timiskaming–Cochrane, have already spoken out in support of the Bill.

“Bill 83 is about securing everyone’s right to participate in matters of public interest. Our communities are stronger, economies are more resilient and environment healthier through public debate that taps into our collective strengths and experience,” says Julee Boan of Ontario Nature’s Thunder Bay office. “With rumours of a provincial election this spring, we are asking all MPPs to act now, and show they can work together for the benefit of all Ontarians.”

The Ontario Bar Association, the voice for lawyers, judges, notaries, law teachers and law students across the province, has stated that they have “long called for this type of legislation” and that Bill 83, “very closely reflects the recommendations [their] organization made”. The Council of Canadians, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Centre for Law and Democracy are also calling for the anti-SLAPP legislation to be passed.

“We are not alone in supporting Bill 83,” explained Graham Saunders, president of Environment North. “We are joining more than 150 free speech, environmental groups and unions, and dozens of municipalities in endorsing the proposed legislation. We are calling on northern MPPs to make the passing of anti-SLAPP legislation a priority.”

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For more information, please contact:
Julee Boan, Boreal Program Manager, Ontario Nature: juleeb@ontarionature.org
Graham Saunders, President, Environment North: weatherw@tbaytel.net
Dr. Paul Berger, Representative, Citizens United for a Sustainable Planet: paul.berger@lakeheadu.ca


Ontario Nature is a charitable membership-based conservation organization established in 1931 that works to protect Ontario’s wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement. Ontario Nature has more than 150 member groups and 30,000 individual members and supporters across the province.

The Boreal Conservation Office was established in Thunder Bay in 2003 to focus on northern environmental issues. www.ontarionature.org Since 1972, Environment North has worked to benefit our community by protecting the environment and increasing the public's awareness and understanding of environmental issues.

Environment North strives to improve and protect the ecological sustainability and socio-economic well being of Northwestern Ontario through leadership, research, partnerships, education, community advocacy and capacity building.
www.environmentnorth.ca

Citizens United for a Sustainable Planet (CUSP) is committed to engaged communities, a healthy environment, social and ecological justice, and participatory democracy. Mindful of the real threats to our natural environment, social and economic justice, and the democratic principles of engagement and transparency in Canada, we create public awareness and engage citizens everywhere to require our governments and economic institutions to act in the best interests of ecological resilience and social justice.
www.sustainableplanet.ca

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