B.C. coalition calls on Supreme Court to protect survivors of sexual violence from being sued


VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — In order to protect survivors from being sued, a B.C. coalition is travelling to Ottawa to intervene in two court cases being heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. The cases, Maia Bent, et al. v Howard Platnick et al and 1704604 Ontario Limited v Pointes Protection Association, et al. will be heard Tuesday regarding strategic lawsuits against public participation or SLAPP suits. “These are two cases being heard together by the Supreme Court of Canada about strategic lawsuits against public participation (“SLAPP suits”). SLAPP suits commonly take the form of defamation claims and may often be used to silence dissenting views or to intimidate,” says West Coast LEAF, one of the groups in the coalition, in a statement. “Defamation claims are increasingly being used as a legal weapon against survivors of gender-based violence who, having made the difficult decision to come forward, are then threatened with or have lawsuits filed against them. In this way, SLAPP suits serve as a barrier to reporting gender-based violence.” The coalition of anti-violence organizations will be arguing that SLAPP suits silence survivors of gender-based violence. Executive director for Battered Women’s Support Services Angela Marie MacDougall is part of the coalition. She says SLAPP suits can be brought by perpetrators against survivors. “(SLAPP suits) are often without merit, are brought with the intention of intimidating or silencing individuals, particularly those who are bringing issues of sexualized violence or domestic violence,” she says, adding defamation cases can further trauma for survivors. This will be the first time the Supreme Court of Canada is set to consider the potential harms of SLAPP suits. MacDougall argues anti-SLAPP legislation needs to empower survivors to come forward without fear of being sued or silenced by the legal system. “If society does not do better for survivors, we must recognize that it is in the public interest when survivors can have meaningful access to safety and support and accountability — and particularly within the law.” She says their argument is to ensure the dignity, safety and quality of life for survivors. Atira Women’s Resource Society, Battered Women’s Support Services, WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre, and West Coast LEAF were granted leave in order to intervene in these two cases.