Sunday, November 13, 2005

Fighting back against SLAPPs

I commented last week on some current problems with access to justice. Today, the CP reports on another case where the existing litigation process stacks the deck against all but the wealthiest of citizens:
A stay-at-home mother of three who created a website to alert the government about allegedly dangerous environmental problems in her southwestern Ontario neighbourhood is facing a $2 million libel suit by one of the developers she reported on.

Louisette Lanteigne of Waterloo, Ont., said she grew sick of what she saw during construction in her new subdivision and what appeared to be questionable building practices and labour-code violations...

The statement of claim outlines stories by Lanteigne involving diesel oil spills on subdivision sites, unlocked oil tanks, roofers working without proper safety equipment and possible contamination of soil and water.
There should be exceedingly little chance of the plaintiff being able to recover anywhere near the claimed amount even if it's able to prove that some of the stories were false. But as the article notes, the real issue is with the cost of litigation, as Lanteigne will bear the burden of paying for her own defence even if everything she's said proves to be justified. And it's particularly unfair for Lanteigne to bear all the costs when Ontario's Environment Minister has acknowledged the public good that comes from Lanteigne's reporting.

Lanteigne deserves nothing but credit for her efforts to bring the truth to light. But as important as it is to expose any problems in the local development, she may have an even more positive long-term impact if her story causes the government which benefits from those efforts to provide some protection to its citizen watchdogs.

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