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Facebook and Anti-SLAPP suits

January 9, 2020

Customer disputes interest the public

With its decision in Raymond J. Pilon Enterprises Ltd. v. Village Media Inc., the Ontario Court of Appeal decided a point concerning the “Prevention of Proceedings that Limit Freedom of Expression on Matters of Public Interest (Gag Proceedings)” portion of the Ontario Courts of Justice Act. Those particular rules – otherwise known as the Anti-SLAPP provisions – state their purpose as:

(a) to encourage individuals to express themselves on matters of public interest;\

(b) to promote broad participation in debates on matters of public interest;

(c) to discourage the use of litigation as a means of unduly limiting expression on matters of public interest; and

(d) to reduce the risk that participation by the public in debates on matters of public interest will be hampered by fear of legal action.

The respondents had made a Facebook post about their experience with a Canadian Tire store operated by the appellant. The respondents had successfully brought a motion to have the appellant’s legal action against them over the post dismissed, but the appellant argued on appeal that the Anti-SLAPP provisions did not apply: the issue was, they argued, simply a private dispute between a customer and a store, which was not a “matter of public interest”. The motions judge had disagreed, holding that it related “to the issues of customer service and shopping experience at a major retail store”, raised “the question of the appropriateness of a store manager involving the police in such a matter”, and was “cautioning potential customers of the Canadian Tire in Timmins about the treatment they may receive at that store” (para 4). The Ontario Court of Appeal found no error in these conclusions, and therefore upheld the decision, rejecting the appeal.

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