A SLAPP or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation is a lawsuit, usually nominally for libel or slander, that is not intended to get compensation for actual harm but instead to silence one's critics on a public issue. They are very common among Internet critics. See cyberslapp.org for an extensive list of cases and responses.
In Canada, SLAPP suits are probably more common than anywhere else in the English speaking world. The laws of British Columbia and Ontario in particular are very friendly to plaintiffs who engage in forum shopping to find a favourable place to sue from. BC media lawyer Dan Burnett outlined in a Lawyers Weekly article how truly bad Canadian laws were - they have improved somewhat since as Burnett and others have achieved precedents restricting plaintiff's rights.
Several landmark SLAPP cases in Canada involving political libel issues:
- Simpson v. Mair, SCOC 2008, where the latter was sued over likening the former's views on homosexuals to those of Hitler or US Southern governors of the 1960s - this established that publishers need not defend every popular understanding or implication of their stated opinion, only their actual stated opinion as they really stated it, and further established that publishers need not defend why they believe things that they believe nor how sincerely they believe them, because publishers must be free to publish views (like letters to the editor) they do not agree with.
- Gerard Kennedy v. National Post, in which the former claimed that the latter had no right to speculate that he may have shifted his support to Stephane Dion in exchange for the latter's opposition to laws found offensive by the BC Sikh community.
- Toronto Port Authority v. Toronto AIR, a community group that criticized the Port Authority. Under then - CEO Lisa Raitt, now the federal Minister of Transport under Stephen Harper, the TPA filed a lawsuit that used public funds to intimidate and silence the public - this was considered a gross breach of public trust by many including especially James Barber who wrote of the implications of the suit. After Barber's stinging critique the TPA reduced its demands to public recantation of the citizens - forcing them to deny their own opinion on public issues were valid at all. Harper is thought to have encouraged Raitt to run to gain her legal advice and experience with SLAPP suits in his cabinet.
- Wayne Crookes v. openpolitics.ca, v. google, v. yahoo, v. pbwiki, v. p2pnet, v. Michael Geist, etc., in which Crookes sought to suppress the term gang of Crookes used to describe himself and his colleagues who had controlled the Green Party of Canada under a number of other committee names, all of which controlled the party's funds and hiring. He also sought to prevent anyone whatsoever from linking to coverage or debates about the matter. The p2pnet case was thrown out on the grounds that mere linking does not mean agreeing with a third party website, which is thought to have major implications for file sharing and other Internet law issues. A google search demonstrates that such attempts to suppress such humourous labels are obviously not successful, and if anything encourage further discussion of the issues and persons so labelled. The GPC itself never officially condemned Crookes action perhaps because it had itself engaged in similar behaviour. Crookes filed the first suit during the federal Greens' internal 2006 elections, and there was some speculation that he was concerned primarily to distract candidates who critiqued him publicly. Crookes himself backed David Chernushenko for the GPC leadership against Elizabeth May.
- Jim Harris and John Anderson of the Green Party of Canada had sued Matthew Pollesel and former NDP candidate and GPC Chair Gretchen Schwarz in the 2006 federal election campaign over comments they made to the press also regarding party finances. As this was during the period Crookes was National Campaign Chair there was some speculation (after Crookes' own extensive lawsuits) that he or his attorneys advised this move. The suits were quickly dropped after the election, proving their political motivation.
- Stephen Harper v. Stephane Dion, Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party of Canada, the most famous of these cases, in which a sitting Prime Minister of Canada sued the Leader of the Opposition, Deputy Leader and the opposition party itself. This was after the Liberals, citing clear statements on the record by both Harper himself and Chuck Cadman's widow Dona and their daughter, issued a press release implying Harper had known of an attempt to bribe Chuck Cadman personally to receive his vote as an MP in the House, which is a crime. The suit was quietly dropped after Ignatieff supported Harper's 2009 budget in the House of Commons, despite most legal experts believing that Harper had no basis for it whatsoever and would be savaged in court, particularly given the strong motion in legal precedents towards freedom of political speech at whatever cost to the "reputation" of public figures. Worldwide, Canada may be the only democracy that even permits public political figures holding offices to sue their political critics for civil harms (see Burnett article and a related analysis of how the issue is treated in other English speaking countries.
Neither the federal nor any provincial New Democratic Party nor any leader of either has never filed a SLAPP suit against political or public opponents.