- Please make sure you’ve read the previous page, What is a SLAPP Suit?, to help contextualize this.
Connections with the Hanlon Creek 5
In the 2008/2009 Annual Report from Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Gord Miller, he defines SLAPP suits as:
“civil actions with little or no substantial basis or merit advanced with the intent of stifling participation in public policy and decision-making.”
The City of Guelph’s lawsuit against the Hanlon Creek 5 fits this description for several reasons:
- The extremely high maximum limit of damages claimed by the City is obviously unrealistic and intended to intimidate us and anyone else who would consider stepping outside the limits of actions deemed acceptable by the City. Guelph Mercury columnist Scott Tracey recognized this in his opinion piece, City may as well seek a kajillion dollars from Hanlon Creek protesters.
- The City’s allegations have no substantial basis or merit; most allegations are not even true. See our Statement of Defence for our explanation of this.
In November 2008 the Canadian Environmental Law Association and Ecojustice wrote to the Attorney General of Ontario, asking for legislation to end SLAPP suits. They make the following points about SLAPP suits:
SLAPP suits are lawsuits that are “brought by corporate interests against individual citizens and community and public interest groups who do not have the financial means to fight the claims in court.”
The Hanlon Creek 5 are individual citizens who do not have the means to fight the claims in court.
“Lawsuits based on ordinary civil claims such as defamation, interference with economic interests, interference with contractual relations, conspiracy, trespass and nuisance.”
The lawsuit against the Hanlon Creek 5 alleges claims of “conspiracy, interference with economic relations, inducing breach of contract, trespass, nuisance, and intimidation” – allegations identical word-for-word to SLAPP suits faced by community groups all across this country.
“These suits often target those who engage in lawful activities such as reporting health or environmental violations, filing complaints with government agencies, circulating petitions, writing letters to government or business, speaking at community, environmental or land use planning meetings, providing information to the media, and engaging in public information campaigns.”
The City of Guelph is targeting those who engage in lawful activities. Also named in the lawsuit is “Land Is More Important Than Sprawl (LIMITS), or any agent or person acting under their instruction, John Doe, Jane Doe, and other persons unknown.” LIMITS is a community group who organized public events, media attention, and meetings about the Hanlon Creek Business Park. LIMITS had nothing to do with the occupation, and in fact numerous press releases from the occupiers explicitly stated it was not a LIMITS-organized event. The City of Guelph knows this, and by including LIMITS on the lawsuit, the City of Guelph is targeting those who engage in lawful activities.
In addition, the Hanlon Creek 5 were acting in the public interest, and this standing was granted to them by Justice Gray of the Ontario Superior Court (see paragraph 45 of Justice Gray’s decision) . After years of public process around the HCBP, many problems remained unaddressed. But the more people sought to participate, the more the City of Guelph shut down and refused to dialogue. Last summer, the City of Guelph refused to abide by the warnings of the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). This forced those concerned for the Hanlon Creek Watershed to act in the public interest and stop work themselves.
“Instead of going through a costly litigation process, some SLAPP targets may abandon their opposition and cease to engage in public participation on the issue.”
The City of Guelph’s lawsuit has made numerous people who once worked with LIMITS, but had nothing to do with the occupation, feel too threatened to participate in LIMITS, and no longer willing to talk about the HCBP.
In addition, Associate Professor of Law and Executive Director of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Center, Chris Tollefson, adds another dimension to SLAPP suits. He writes:
“Unlike other plaintiffs, a SLAPP filer’s main concern is by definition, not monetary compensation or other legal remedy to correct a wrong or grievance. The decision to proceed with a SLAPP is usually a highly tactical one, forming part of a larger strategy… These goals can be achieved without winning a lawsuit or for that matter, carrying it forward to a determination on the merits.”
Upon examination of numerous other factors, it seems that the City of Guelph’s lawsuit against the Hanlon Creek 5 is indeed part of a larger strategy of unabated industrial growth and large profits for the development industry. Some of these factors include:
- disproportionate backroom access granted to developers and their associates on important environmental matters, and frustratingly long delays to much-needed environmental protection measures like the Natural Heritage Strategy and an urban forest plan (examples 1, 2)
- deceit and miscommunication from City hall regarding the true nature of their development interests (examples 1, 2)
- refusal to meet with, or meaningfully address, well-researched concerns of community members (examples 1, 2, 3)
- willingness to destroy up to 77% of the Paris-Galt moraine within city limits, willingness to place industrial sprawl on top of vulnerable drinking water recharge zones, support of the developent industry’s desire for ‘greenfields,’ rather than encouraging the rehabilitation and re-use of old industrial sites, and many more.