Appeal court provides guidance on contempt of court

The use of contempt of court in civil proceedings will likely diminish over time as judges begin to exercise discretionary powers to redress abuse of process under legislation originally designed to thwart SLAPPs, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, observed the Quebec Court of Appeal.

Contempt of court, an exceptional remedy given its quasi-criminal character and potentially grave sanctions, should be used sparingly and as a “last resort,” particularly since more suitable civil sanctions exist such as running the risk of losing the case on the grounds of abuse of process, dismissal of claims, the striking of allegations to institute proceedings, or even the possible forfeiture of funds held in deposit, advised the appeal court in a 24-page ruling.

“Viewing contempt as a last resort where there is an alternative remedy, better-tailored to the context, has the further advantage of reserving contempt for those cases of egregious behaviour that genuinely threaten the authority of the courts and merit the strong medicine of the quasi-criminal contempt sanction,” said Justice Nicholas Kasirer in a unanimous ruling.

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Anti-SLAPP: Will Ontario follow Quebec’s lead?

A free-standing statute with focused remedies such as an expedited review process and a statutory recognition of qualified privilege anchor a series of comprehensive recommendations made by a blue-ribbon panel of legal experts who are calling on the Ontario government to enact legislation to crack down on strategic lawsuits against public participation, otherwise known as SLAPPs.

In the wake of rising concerns over the growing use of litigation to silence critics who speak out on matters of public concern, notably in environmental disputes, the advisory panel appointed by the Attorney General of Ontario recommends new legislation, distinct from existing rules, that would “help to encourage” courts to apply remedies to protect expression on matters of public interest from undue interference.

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Anti-SLAPP – A look at Quebec developments

Barely three weeks after a Quebec judge rendered a landmark ruling that dismissed a $150,000 action after it was held to be a strategic lawsuit against public participation, otherwise known as SLAPPs, a national organization approved a Model Act aimed at reinforcing existing remedies to deter abusive lawsuits.

In an eagerly awaited judgment, Quebec Superior Court Justice Danielle Turcotte found that a defamation suit launched by Les Constructions Infrabec Inc. against a citizen who asked questions at a municipal council meeting was “motivated by an attempt to intimidate,” marking the first time that a ruling has applied an anti-SLAPP bill sanctioned by the Quebec government on June 2009.

Only Quebec has anti-SLAPP legislation. In April 2001, British Columbia enacted anti-SLAPP legislation but it was short-lived as it was repealed five months later. Anti-SLAPP bills were also introduced in New Brunswick in 1997 and in Nova Scotia in 2003, but were never passed.

SLAPPs are lawsuits, usually defamation actions, initiated against individuals or public interest groups to stifle criticism. The purpose behind SLAPPs is to limit the freedom of expression of the defendants and “neutralize their actions” by resorting to the courts to intimidate them, deplete their resources and reduce their means of actions, according to Vincent Pelletier, former legal counsel at the Quebec Ministry of Justice, who presided over a working group that published a Model Act on behalf of the Uniform Law Conference of Canada (ULCC). Established in 1918, the ULCC seeks to harmonize the laws of the province and territories of Canada and where appropriate the federal law as well. Continue reading “Anti-SLAPP – A look at Quebec developments”