12/01/2014 03:34 EST | Updated 01/31/2015 05:59 EST

Ontario Anti-SLAPP Bill Will Make It Harder For Companies To Squeeze Activists In Court

TORONTO - Ontario's Liberal government is taking steps it says will protect freedom of expression by cracking down on lawsuits known as SLAPP — strategic litigation against public participation.

The government says individuals or companies use the threat of long and expensive lawsuits to intimidate opponents and discourage others from speaking out.

The legislation would give Ontario courts a new fast-track process for identifying and dealing with strategic lawsuits, and any requests to dismiss a case must be heard by the courts within 60 days.

The Liberals say the bill would minimize the time and resources wasted by plaintiffs, defendants and the courts on meritless claims, while allowing legitimate complaints to proceed.

Environmental groups applauded the anti-SLAPP legislation, saying it will protect Ontarians from the chilling impact that such lawsuits have on people who raise concerns on issues of public importance.

"SLAPPs are meritless lawsuits which are intended to prevent individuals from engaging in public debate in matters of public interest by burdening them with substantial legal costs, thereby forcing them to abandon their opposition and silencing criticism," said Theresa McClenaghan of the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

"Anti-SLAPP legislation will strengthen the democratic process."

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