“Ontario mom faces $2M libel suit for website about problems in neighbourhood,” by Mike Oliveira, CP, 13 November 2005, http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Canada/2005/11/13/1305275-cp.html (from Slashdot).
Louisette Lanteigne of Waterloo, Ont., said she grew sick of what she saw during construction in her new subdivision and what appeared to be questionable building practices and labour-code violations.
She said she was constantly keeping her kids and their friends out of trouble, as they would keep running into hazards around their neighbourhood. She petitioned city council and got help but new problems would appear as quickly as the old ones got fixed, she said.
She launched her website in April to document her complaints and as a means for the province’s Environment and Labour ministries to view the evidence she collected. She made about a dozen postings with photos and stories of sightings around her area.
Her efforts led to letters and kudos from various government officials for reporting alleged violations. Then-environment minister Leona Dombrowsky wrote her to say, “Your advocacy on behalf of your neighbourhood is commendable and I encourage you to contact the ministry . . .to report any further incidents.”
Environment Ministry spokesman John Steele said work by people like Lanteigne is of great value because there aren’t enough ministry workers available to spot every infraction.
“Obviously we can’t have staff everywhere all the time, so we depend on the public out there as surrogate eyes and ears for the ministry,” Steele said. “They’re an important part of the ministry’s work.”
But not everyone was happy with her reports.
On Sept. 16, Lanteigne received news that she was being sued for libel by developer Activa Holdings Inc., one of the largest developers in the region.
The statement of claim said “the malicious, high-handed and arrogant conduct of the Defendant warrants an award of punitive or exemplary damages to ensure that the Defendant is appropriately punished for her conduct and deterred from such conduct in the future.”
The company sought $2 million and an order to have the allegedly libellous material taken offline.
It definitely sounds like Activa Holdings is the NationMaster of Canada!
If there’s anything good about the news, it will popularize anti-SLAPP
The legislation is typically called anti-SLAPP, an acronym for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.
The laws reduce the risk of fighting lawsuits because if the plaintiff loses, they are responsible for all the legal fees. In Lanteigne’s case, she will have to pay her lawyer regardless of the outcome.
“Typically with David-Goliath-type situations where a citizen is faced with large legal costs and aggressive litigious companies, it takes a lot of courage to persevere,” said Rick Smith, executive director for advocacy organization Environmental Defence Canada.
Because this seems to be so widespread, I am modifying NationMaster Watch to include more anti-SLAPP resources.