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Civil Litigation - SLAPP - Bent v. Platnick (SCC, 2020)

In Bent v. Platnick (SCC, 2020) the Supreme Court of Canada considered Ontario's anti-SLAPP provisions from the Court of Justice Act in a defamation case. The case was released with the leading case of Pointes Protection which contains the bulk of the court's SLAPP doctrine. The following Platnick extracts are useful ones in addition to Pointes Protection:
[4] Furthermore, and in order to avoid any misunderstanding, it is important to mention at the outset that a s. 137.1 motion is unequivocally not a determinative adjudication of the merits of a claim: Pointes Protection, at paras. 37, 50, 52 and 71. Instead, the implication of the findings that I set out herein is simple: Dr. Platnick deserves to have his day in court to potentially vindicate his reputation — “a fundamental value in its own right in a democracy”: para. 81. At trial, judicial powers of inquiry are broader, viva voce evidence can be given, and ultimate assessments of credibility can be made. Nothing in these reasons can, or should, be taken as prejudging the merits of Dr. Platnick’s underlying defamation claim either in fact or in law. Simply put, my resolution of this s. 137.1 motion means only that Dr. Platnick’s claim is one that deserves to be adjudicated on the merits, and is not one that ought to be summarily screened out at this early stage.


B. Section 137.1 Motion

[74] Section 137.1 of the CJA is intended “to function as a mechanism to screen out lawsuits that unduly limit expression on matters of public interest through the identification and pre-trial dismissal of such actions”: Pointes Protection, at para. 16. However, in addition to protecting expression on matters of public interest, s. 137.1 must also “ensur[e] that a plaintiff with a legitimate claim is not unduly deprived of the opportunity to pursue it”: para. 46. Applying the framework that this Court unanimously adopts in Pointes Protection, I ultimately reach the same conclusion as the Court of Appeal for Ontario: Ms. Bent’s s. 137.1 motion should be dismissed and Dr. Platnick’s defamation claim should be allowed to proceed.

[75] The relevant portions of s. 137.1 are reproduced for convenience below:
(3) On motion by a person against whom a proceeding is brought, a judge shall, subject to subsection (4), dismiss the proceeding against the person if the person satisfies the judge that the proceeding arises from an expression made by the person that relates to a matter of public interest.

(4) A judge shall not dismiss a proceeding under subsection (3) if the responding party satisfies the judge that,

(a) there are grounds to believe that,

(i) the proceeding has substantial merit, and

(ii) the moving party has no valid defence in the proceeding; and

(b) the harm likely to be or have been suffered by the responding party as a result of the moving party’s expression is sufficiently serious that the public interest in permitting the proceeding to continue outweighs the public interest in protecting that expression.
[76] As I explain in Pointes Protection, at para. 18:
In brief, s. 137.1 places an initial burden on the moving party — the defendant in a lawsuit — to satisfy the judge that the proceeding arises from an expression relating to a matter of public interest. Once that showing is made, the burden shifts to the responding party — the plaintiff — to satisfy the motion judge that there are grounds to believe the proceeding has substantial merit and the moving party has no valid defence, and that the public interest in permitting the proceeding to continue outweighs the public interest in protecting the expression. If the responding party cannot satisfy the motion judge that it has met its burden, then the s. 137.1 motion will be granted and the underlying proceeding will be consequently dismissed. It is important to recognize that the final weighing exercise under s. 137.1(4)(b) is the fundamental crux of the analysis: as noted repeatedly above, the APR [Anti-Slapp Advisory Panel: Report to the Attorney General] and the legislative debates emphasized balancing and proportionality between the public interest in allowing meritorious lawsuits to proceed and the public interest in protecting expression on matters of public interest. Section 137.1(4)(b) is intended to optimize that balance.
[77] A motion judge’s determination on a s. 137.1 motion will typically be entitled to deference upon appeal, absent reviewable error. Here, the motion judge’s initial determination of Ms. Bent’s s. 137.1 motion is entitled to no deference. This is on account of the fact that the motion judge committed three broad errors: he applied the wrong legal test on a s. 137.1 motion, misconstrued the law on defamation and its defences, and misapprehended the evidence. Accordingly, as in Pointes Protection, I proceed on a standard of correctness unless the motion judge’s findings are not tainted by such errors: para. 97; Housen v. Nikolaisen, 2002 SCC 33, [2002] 2 S.C.R. 235, at paras. 8 and 36.


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Last modified: 19-02-23
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