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BC Supreme Court applies freedom of speech law in key environmental ruling

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Court dismisses defamation lawsuit against Qualicum Beach residents

QUALICUM BEACH, BC / Qualicum First Nation Territory – Lawyers at West Coast Environmental Law are encouraged by an important decision from the BC Supreme Court this week, which dismissed a defamation lawsuit against the Qualicum Nature Preservation Society (QNPS) and a concerned citizen for speaking up against a potentially environmentally-damaging development proposal.

This decision [Todsen et al. v. Morse et al., 2022 BCSC 1341] is one of the first meaningful decisions applying BC’s Protection of Public Participation Act, which passed in 2019 following years of advocacy by West Coast and many others to protect citizens from Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP).

“This is a very important decision with significant implications for British Columbians who speak up about risks to nature and their communities,” said Dr. Larry Reynolds, West Coast’s Access to Justice Lawyer. “The decision recognizes that individuals and organizations advocating in good faith for the public interest are able to say what they think, without fear of reprisal in the form of costly lawsuits from corporations, developers or others who wish to silence their critics.”

The case stems from a grassroots campaign to protect a sensitive forest and wetland area on Vancouver Island from development, which prompted the owners of Todsen Design & Construction Ltd. to file a defamation claim against QNPS and a Qualicum resident who raised concerns about the proposal. In July 2021, the defendants and their lawyers (Tollefson Law and Gratl & Company) filed for dismissal of the defamation claim under the Protection of Public Participation Act – with support from West Coast’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund.

In his decision, the Honourable Justice Brongers found that the defendants (QNPS and the concerned citizen) met the tests to dismiss a defamation claim set out in section 4 of the Protection of Public Participation Act. While the judge found that the Todsens were not liable for any damages, a decision on whether they should pay the defendants’ legal fees is still to come.

“Environmental defenders have long faced reprisals, including defamation lawsuits like this one, when their efforts stand in the way of developers and others whose actions could harm the environment,” said Dr. Reynolds. “Those who stand up in good faith for the public interest have a new ally in the Act, knowing that protections now exist from those who would like to silence their voices.”

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For more information, please contact:

Dr. Larry Reynolds | Access to Justice Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law
250-465-2667