West Coast LEAF is proud to be part of a coalition of BC anti-violence organizations alongside Atira Women’s Resource Society, Battered Women’s Support Services and WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre to fight the devastating impacts of defamation lawsuits against survivors of sexual violence.

The coalition is together in Ottawa today at the Supreme Court of Canada to argue that laws aimed at promoting public participation must account for the experiences of survivors of gender-based violence.

Two cases from Ontario (Maia Bent, et al. v Howard Platnick, et al. and 1704604 Ontario Limited v Pointes Protection Association, et al.) about the use of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP suits) have made their way to the nation’s highest court. SLAPP suits are often used by someone in a position of power to intimate and silence others by dragging them through a costly legal process, even if the case has no merit. They often take the form of defamation or libel claims.

These types of tactics have proliferated as backlash against survivors of gender-based violence who report or disclose the violence they’ve experienced, and who may be reaching out for support and to ensure the safety of themselves and others.

The Supreme Court is considering the interpretation of an Ontario law that’s aimed at weeding out these lawsuits when they have no merit and will censor public participation in issues of public interest. This kind of law is referred to as anti-SLAPP legislation. BC recently passed a law promoting public participation that is modeled on the Ontario law being considered by the Court.

This is the first time the Supreme Court of Canada will be reviewing anti-SLAPP legislation and it’s an important moment for Canadians who care about justice for survivors of sexual violence.

The BC coalition argued at the Supreme Court that the existing law needs to evolve to develop an explicit exemption from these frivolous lawsuits for survivors of gender-based violence. An exemption would lessen some of the risks that survivors are forced to consider about how their reporting or disclosure of violence might mean putting themselves at risk of long, costly lawsuits that further add trauma.

Without this kind of an exemption, the threat of civil litigation becomes yet another barrier to reporting gender-based violence, including sexual assault. These are crimes that we know are already vastly underreported and that disproportionately harm people marginalized on the basis of their gender, gender identity, and gender expression.

There is a clear public interest in ensuring that survivors are able to seek justice, accountability and support without fear of retribution or intimidation.

If society is to do better by survivors–which it must–then we have to understand that the law can’t continue to be a barrier to survivors’ meaningful access to safety, supports and accountability.

West Coast LEAF wants to ensure that the experiences of survivors are not swept aside. We are committed to advocating for the safety and well-being of survivors as they navigate the criminal justice system and the courts and seek access to safety, support, and justice.