Environment in Crisis

Lawsuits Against Participation

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Australia - Ballina
Australia - Helensburgh


SLAPPs are far less frequent in countries outside the US. Chris Tollefson suggests this is because SLAPPs are a response to the drive for and exercise of citizen participation rights and that "Canadians enjoy few of these rights". In the US "the enactment of statutory regimes contemplating or requiring public input" and the liberalisation of the rules of who can take court action on environmental matters means that citizens have "unprecedented access to government and the courts with respect to decisions affecting the environment." Tollefson sees SLAPPs as a tactical response by pro-development business interests to the increasingly effective use that environmental and citizens groups make of these opportunities.

Nevertheless, the SLAPP cases outside of the US are increasing and taking their toll, especially because legal assistance is not readily available in cases such as libel. Mirabelle, one of the Canadian protesters being sued by Fletcher Challenge, points out that most of the defendants in her case are representing themselves because they can't afford lawyers and were not able to get legal aid. Six of them have already lost the case before trial for not following "proper procedure" because they didn't understand the legal process. This means that their assets can be seized and part of their wages forfeited for the next 20 years to pay the company. And because of a legal concept of "joint and several liability", if anyone can't pay then the others must make up the difference. Mirabelle says that this is one of the reasons that "SLAPPs are potentially a very divisive tactic".

While legal aid to low income litigants is being cut back in Australia, companies receive a massive subsidy for their legal expenses through being able to claim them as tax deductions, no matter how much merit a case has or how much they spend on lawyers.

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Kim Goldberg, 'SLAPPs Surge North: Canadian Activists Under Attack', The New Catalyst, Vol. 25 (Winter 1992/3) , pp. 1-3.

Chris Tollefson, 'Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation: Developing a Canadian Response', The Canadian Bar Review, Vol. 73 (1994).

© 2003 Sharon Beder