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
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.
...back to top
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).