Local Governance Provincial politics

Anti-SLAPP Legislation at UBCM

Sep 29, 2017 Editor
The Union of BC Municipalities Met in September Over 144 Motions

by Michele Murphy

Lots may be coming out of the 2017 annual general  meeting of the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM). The theme this year is ‘Roots to Results’ looking at the increasing leadership of local government in matters of federal and provincial jurisdiction. This year’s program includes keynotes, policy sessions, and workshops on climate action, the opioid crisis, and the need for a deeper response to homelessness and housing affordability.

Resolutions that have been brought to the annual forum by councillors hopeful of gaining support include mitigation for the destruction and prevention of wildfires, the handling of recreational marijuana at the community level, dealing with rats, Canada geese, deer, and UBER, daylight savings time, and Oak Bay Coun. Kevin Murdock’s successful motion to put some long-overdue restrictions on and transparency in BC’s wild-west of municipal campaign financing.

There are approx. 144 motions being voted on during the five-day convention, most of which have to do with lobbying the new provincial government to take action on various issues.

Central Saanich Coun. Zeb King went to this year’s meeting with just that intention – to once again ask that the Province to create and enforce anti-SLAPP legislation.

According to Wikipedia, a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics.

Th BC. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) says that SLAPPs represent a real and present danger to the exercise of free expression in BC, saying  that lawfully participating in the political life of this province can be a risky business.

In plain language, a SLAPP is a lawsuit that a person or company with deep pockets starts in order to shut down someone that is speaking out against them. The idea is that the person speaking out doesn’t have the money or the time to defend themselves, so they shut-up or face legal consequences of some sort.

King’s motion contended  that SLAPPS are intended to penalize or deter citizens and municipalities from participating in public affairs, unnecessarily burden on our overcrowded public court system, exists in other Canadian jurisdictions and as such requests that the BC Government enact robust anti-SLAPP legislation that will protect the right to communicate on matters of public interest.

This won’t be provincial anti-SLAPP legislation’s first time around in BC. The last time the BC NDP were in power, in 2001, they passed what BCCLA  said was perhaps one of North America’s most robust and innovative laws of the type.  B.C.’s Protection for Public Participation Act was Canada’s first anti-SLAPP legislation. Weeks after it was passed the BC NDP were defeated in the provincial election and the BC Liberals immediately axed the SLAPP legislation.

Despite repeated requests to reinstate the legislation, the BC Liberals refused to do so.

But there’s a new sheriff in town.

Reporting in from UBCM King says that after some last-minute drama around AGM process his motion to ask the Province to enact this legislation passed. King added that he spoke briefly to Attorney General David Eby who thanked him for the anti-SLAPP resolution and said it is on his agenda for next session. King added that he felt the new AG was “very supportive.”

Anti-SLAPP legislation in BC may soon be a reality.

Editor’s note: As a small independent newspaper, with a limited legal budget ($0.00), Saanich Voice Online follows the progress of this legislation with great interest. Without the protection of our courts, media outlets are extremely vulnerable to SLAPP and have to make difficult editorial choices to avoid putting themselves in the cross-hairs of deep-pocketed news subjects.

See past SLAPP coverage HERE