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What a SLAPP in the Face

10 Mar 2023 4:45 PM | CAN-TECH Law (Administrator)

What a SLAPP in the Face

Nurses’ anti-vaccination defamation action against online reporting dismissed under anti-SLAPP legislation

In Canadian Frontline Nurses v. Canadian Nurses Association, Justice Vermette of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice presided over an “anti-SLAPP motion” that arose from anti-vaccination protests in 2021. The plaintiffs were three former nurses and a not-for-profit organization (“CFN”) they had founded and/or were involved with. In September 2021 CFN organized 15 different “rallies/protests” that took place outside hospitals across Canada, at which various opinions were expressed regarding the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, including that the “medical freedom” and “informed choice” of nurses and other health care workers was being infringed by mandatory vaccination policies. Various media coverage and public commentary ensued, including comments by: the defendant Canadian Nurses Association (CNA), a national advocacy organization for nurses; and the defendant Together News Inc. (TNI), a small regional media organization in British Columbia. Each of the defendants (along with other media outlets) published commentary that was critical of the CFN and the protests.

The plaintiffs brought an action for defamation, and the defendants responded with a motion under section 137.1(3) of Ontario’s Courts of Justice Act. These are usually referred to as “anti-SLAPP motions,” as the court explained:
  • These provisions were enacted to mitigate the harmful effects of strategic lawsuits against public participation (also known as “SLAPPs”). SLAPPs are lawsuits initiated against individuals or organizations that speak out or take a position on an issue of public interest. They are generally initiated by plaintiffs who engage the court process and use litigation not as a direct tool to vindicate a bona fide claim, but as an indirect tool to limit the effectiveness of the opposing party’s speech and deter that party, or other potential interested parties, from participating in public affairs.

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