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weight to the constitutional value of free expression in relation to communications
on matters of public interest. Accordingly, it recognized a new
standalone “responsible communication” defence to claims targeting
defamatory expression. In so doing, it deliberately decided not to limit the
availability of this new defence to traditional mainstream journalists. In the
court’s view, it was important to lend the same protection to all “disseminators
of news and information” on matters of public interest, regardless of the
nature of the expressive medium.12
On the heels of Grant, the pace of anti-SLAPP law reform accelerated. In
2009, Quebec passed changes to its Code of Civil Procedure that offered new
protections against SLAPPs that have now been in force for almost a
decade.13 In 2010, the Attorney General of Ontario commissioned a blue-
ribbon panel headed by Mayo Moran, then the dean of the University of
Toronto Faculty of Law, to provide advice on how legislation should be
crafted to respond to SLAPPs.
The panel recommended that a variety of procedural protections be
adopted that would allow for early identification and dismissal of suspect
suits, as well as costs sanctions. In contrast to the approach originally
adopted in B.C., however, the panel recommended against requiring the target
of an alleged SLAPP to show that the filer was acting for an “improper
purpose”. In its view, the better approach was to require the target to show
that the lawsuit concerns “expression” on a matter of “public interest”.
Focusing on a lawsuit’s effects rather than its purposes was, in the panel’s
view, a more streamlined and rational approach to assessing the legitimacy
of suspect claims. Moreover, in its view, courts could be relied on to define
the limits of protected expression and what constitutes a matter of public
The panel’s work closely informed the legislation that the Ontario legislature
passed in 2015.14 The legislation is short and cleanly drafted. Its centerpiece
is a procedure that allows a person to seek dismissal of a
proceeding against them if they can show that it arises from an “expression”
15 they have made relating to a matter of “public interest”.16 At this
point, the onus shifts to the application respondent who must satisfy both a
“merits” test and a “public interest” test to avoid dismissal of the proceeding.
The merits test requires the respondent to show that its case has substantial
merit and that the applicant has no apparent valid defences to the proceeding.
The public interest test then involves a balancing of the applicant’s
expression rights against the harm to the respondent by staying the case.
Since its enactment, Ontario’s anti-SLAPP law has been litigated with
some frequency. In most cases to date, resort to its provisions has been