Support free speech: donate to residents who’ve been sued

slaap suit pix

Vanessa Warren and Monte Dennis didn’t set out to become community activists – she’s a farmer, he’s retired. But when they saw landfilling activity happening at an airpark in rural Burlington, they stepped up on behalf of the entire community. They asked the city to enforce its site alteration bylaw, which regulates the content of fill, height, slope, placement and other matters.

The city did try to enforce our bylaw, but the airpark took us to court. The courts upheld our right to enforce our bylaw; an appeal court agreed; and a third court heard recently heard the case. We are waiting for the judge’s ruling.

In the meantime, Vanessa and Monte were hit with a libel suit for speaking out. Monte was sued for a letter to the editor in the Hamilton Spectator in response to an editorial by representatives from the airpark. Vanessa was sued for Tweeting a link to that editorial, and for an article posted on the RBGC website.

Their comments were well within public discussion and quoted extensively from public documents. As Vanessa has said: “No one expects they will win in court, but even if we win, we lose, because we’ve spent, potentially at that point, hundreds of thousands of dollars defending ourselves against something that doesn’t exist.”

Vanessa and Monte began working with others to lobby the province for legislation to protect residents against SLAAP suits – Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation. These SLAAP suits are aimed at silencing debate, tying residents up in court and costing them thousands. These cases, when they do get to court, are often withdrawn or dismissed. But in the meantime, residents have spent thousands to reach that point. Lives have been ruined, just for exercising the right to free speech.

This fall the province did pass anti-SLAAP legislation – Bill 52 – which gets SLAAP suits before a judge quickly to determine if they have merit – thereby saving all parties thousands in legal costs. Vanessa and Monte fought for this legislation on behalf of other community members, but it won’t help them, because they were sued before it passed.

Their case drags on while legal bills mount. It is not unusual for libel cases to cost $100,000; some have run to over $1 million.

Residents like Vanessa and Monte take up the cause for all of us, and our lives are better because of their efforts. We need to help them.

Watch this SLAAP suit video, and show your support for free speech by donating what you can to help with their legal costs.

To date, they have raised $4,585 toward their goal of $100,000. Help Monte and Vanessa reach their goal!

Written by Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made.

As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington.

The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful.

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  1. Thank you Marianne for your comments on Bill 52, the Anti SLAPP legislation.

    We did indeed work very hard on helping to get this bill passed. This, as you have indicated, came and continues to come at great personal cost, however it will help anyone coming behind us to exercise their Democratic right to free speech. Ontario is only the second Province to have such legislation, Quebec being the other. Wouldn’t it be nice if all Canadians were free to express their opinions clear across all of Canada? Why should only those living in Ontario and Quebec be free to express their opinions on projects without the fear of being shut up by bullying developers or individuals?
    This “resetting” of Democracy should apply to all Canadians.

    This Airpark, to date has also cost the city and all of it’s residents many hundreds of thousands of dollars which could have been put to use on Positive projects.

    Would I do it all over again – of course I would since wise people before have said “You must stand for something or you will fall for anything”. Only when the public is allowed to comment, criticize and offer their input on projects or developments, without fear of being sued, will we finally have better and more acceptable projects and, in turn, build better communities.

    Thanks to everyone for their encouragement and support to date.

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