SLAPPs increasingly used by anti-vaxxers, lawyer says
Such lawsuits seek to limit freedom of expression on matters of public interest, according to Me Champ. (Archives)
An Ontario lawyer involved in a million-dollar defamation lawsuit brought by a group of anti-vaccine nurses says SLAPPs are increasingly being used as tools by those seeking to silence criticism of medical misinformation.
Paul Champ, an Ottawa-based human rights and labor lawyer, spoke to CBC News about the lawsuit filed in the #x27;last fall by three Ontario nurses.
Kristen Nagle, of London, Kristal Pitter, of Tillsonburg, and Sarah Choujounian, of Toronto, have been investigated by the province's nursing regulator for allegedly broadcasting medical misinformation and conspiracy theories on social media.
They are seeking $1 million in damages for embarrassment and humiliation following the publication of two separate editorials. The first was written by the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA); the second, by the media Together News Inc. (TNI) of British Columbia.
Kristal Pitter, Kristen Nagle and Sara Choujounian, left to right
Mr. Champ, the lawyer defending TNI, argues that instead of legitimately seeking justice, plaintiffs are trying to use the court system for other purposes.
[They] try to block and attack anyone who disagrees with them, but they also try to use it as a platform to lure attention to their cause and find a forum in which they can attempt to perpetuate their discredited theories.
Ms. Nagle, Pitter and Choujounian are key members of Canadian Frontline Nurses, a group that campaigns against the scientific consensus by organizing rallies and sells alternative health practices and related goods.
According to Champ, the lawsuit launched by the nurses and CFN is a strategic lawsuit against public mobilization, also known as a SLAPP. It is a legal tactic often used by the wealthy and powerful to intimidate, silence or bankrupt their opponents.
TNI and CNA have both filed motions under Ontario's SLAPP prevention rules and seek to have lawsuits overturned which Champ says are intended to limit free speech on matters of public interest,
We hope that the court will agree with us on this point.
No decision has yet been rendered in this case.
A group of journalists and doctors recently used Ontario's SLAPP prevention rules to dismiss a $12 million lawsuit brought by a group of anti-vaccine doctors. The latter had filed the lawsuit after being criticized on social media for spreading misinformation about the pandemic.
According to Champ, special interest groups that peddle false medical information learn that the Canadian justice system cannot be used to silence their critics.
They are inherently unreasonable people, I think. They use the courts to try to advance their cases. I believe the courts will not be a very receptive forum for them. This is what we have seen so far and what we will see in the future.
In closing arguments filed by the defence, TNI and CNA said they stand by their separate editorials, published online last fall in the wake of mandatory vaccination protests outside hospitals across Canada.
CNA argues it had a duty to issue the September 9, 2021 statement, titled Enough is enough : professional nurses stand for science-based healthcare free], to express public support for healthcare workers who have been harassed, demoralized, threatened or attacked during protests, including some organized by CFN.
TNI stated that his editorial titled Quack! Quack! These pro-virus nurses have dangerous ideas [Coin-coin! These provirus nurses have dangerous ideas. According to Mr. Champ, many other media have reported on the three complainants. He claims that TNI is being unfairly targeted.
It is remarkable that the CBC and other major news organizations have published stories very similar to Together News and that for some reason [CFN] does not go after those organizations.
Together News is not a big organization, he added. Why are they going after my clients?
Alexander Boissonneau-Lehner, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, told CBC News in an email that ;he was unable to comment on the matter.
It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the claims of our clients or those of the defendants that are in the process of being tried in court, he wrote.
< p class="e-p">The nurses claim that after the publication of the various articles, they suffered ridicule, hatred and contempt, damage to their personal and professional reputation, as well as humiliation and severe emotional anxiety.
The three women were investigated by the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) for allegedly spreading misinformation about the pandemic, mask effectiveness and COVID-19 vaccines.
All three are licensed to practice in the province without restriction, according to the Ontario nursing regulatory body.
With information from Colin Butler, of CBC