Two British Columbia cases show again why we need laws to prevent Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs).
A Mr. Scory owns land in the agricultural land reserve in Langley; he applied to the Township to deposit 750,000 cubic metres of fill on his land, allegedly for agricultural purposes. His neighbours, Sian Krannitz, Jack DeWitte and the Glen Valley Watershed Society, vigorously opposed his proposal, and he sued them.
Mr. Scory alleged that the defendants engaged in a public campaign to oppose his application, including publishing false and malicious statements about his proposal. He sued them in tort, alleging 6 causes of action: defamation, injurious falsehood, conspiracy to injure, unlawful interference with economic relations, trespass and nuisance. Ms. Krannitz and the GVWS filed an application for summary dismissal.
The court granted the application, with costs to the respondents, finding that Mr. Scory’s claims were baseless – he failed to prove the elements required for any of the torts. The court stated that Mr. Scory greatly exaggerated the defendants’ statements and fabricated other allegations against them.
In a related case (2011 BCSC 936, July 12, 2011, link http://www.canlii.org/en/bc/bcsc/doc/2011/2011bcsc936/2011bcsc936.html ) the Court granted defendant DeWitte an order dismissing the claim against him. Mr. Scory had also sued him in tort based on statements allegedly made by Mr. DeWitte at a council meeting. The Court agreed with Mr. DeWitte that the plaintiff’s claim had no merit and was intended to intimidate Mr. DeWitte and others with similar interests from participating in public debate. As such, the claim was a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) deserving censure: Mr. DeWitte was awarded his costs as special costs.
Note: Successful defendants in Canada typically recover a third to a half of their legal costs from the other side. In BC, “special costs”are awarded where the opposing party has engaged in some sort of reprehensible conduct and deserves more than a SLAPP on the wrist (pun intended). This typically represents around 90% of a litigant’s actual costs. Thus, the totally successful, innocent defendant can end up significantly out of pocket, even if they get (and can collect) special costs. And meanwhile they have had to devote countless hours to a groundless lawsuit….
by Jackie Campbell and Dianne Saxe