Thursday, June 4, 2009

Don't Criticize Lisa Raitt or She'll Sue

When Lisa Raitt was in charge of the Toronto Port Authority, a non-profit group, Community Air, dared to speak out against her. Big mistake. Ms. Raitt sued, and the volunteers, without funds to fight, were forced to apologize.

Since when does the Federal Government get to sue it's citizens for speaking out?

In light of recent incompetence, this group was probably right to question her abilities and that of the federal port authority.

That's all I'm going to say on that though because Lisa might be looking over my shoulder.
The Globe
John Barber
June 21, 2006

Take that! SLAPP -- Shut up! SLAPP -- Pay out!
No political Punch and Judy show worthy of its name -- certainly nothing that involves that skulking and drivelling institutional miscreant known as the Toronto Port Authority -- should proceed without a good Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation these days.

Accordingly the TPA, ever the innovator in dirty politics, has now introduced this brazen U.S. tactic north of the border by launching a $6.8-million lawsuit against the civic gadflies who have dared to criticize its efforts to reindustrialize the Toronto waterfront.

Claiming that the group Community AIR and seven of its directors are "zealous and unbalanced" in their waterfront advocacy, the suit demands that each pay $500,000 in damages for defamation, $250,000 in aggravated damages and another $100,000 in punitive damages to the port authority, its president Lisa Raitt and two others.

The lawsuit also demands an injunction preventing the volunteer activists from making any more allegedly defamatory statements about the federal agency -- a category of speech, according to the wide-open statement of claim the authority filed in court last week, that would seem to include every public statement any of the activists has ever made in this hotly contested, thoroughly aired, public debate.

After failing in its attempt to placate the federal authoritarians by retracting a few of the more fiery comments published on the Community AIR website -- nothing that hasn't been said at a dozen public meetings, or published in more carefully vetted form in this newspaper and others -- the activists are preparing to defend what could be an extremely expensive suit.

"We see this primarily as an effort to shut us up -- and that's not going to happen," said Brian Iler, a lawyer named as one of the defendants. "We will persist."

Writing to TPA lawyer Trisha Jackson of Torys LLP last month, Community AIR lawyer Louis Sokolov denounced the lawsuit as "a transparently tactical use of legal process aimed at chilling legitimate public discourse," adding that its timing, coincidental with a federal review of the authority's dubious activities, is "particularly suspect."

"If ever there were a time for the port authority to attempt to silence its critics," Mr. Sokolov wrote, "this would be it."

Undaunted, Ms. Jackson replied that the authority was determined to sue the group for its "unfounded and defamatory rhetoric" and "invective."But it would be awfully difficult for any ordinary person to find $7-million in damages in the allegedly defamatory statements the lawsuit targeted. They are all contained in a Community AIR memo that sums up the issue with the predictable spin usually applied by port authority critics, presenting it in terms the entire city has heard again and again.
Edited as Community AIR offered to do, it is positively anodyne.

In other words, there is no question that this suit is nothing more than a hollow and cynical SLAPP, "in which a corporation or developer sues an organization in an attempt to scare it into dropping protests against a corporate initiative
," according to one definition.

Many U.S. states have adopted anti-SLAPP measures
that permit wide-ranging debate about issues of legitimate public concern and can be used to derail such suits before they get rolling. Two Ontario courts recently made baby steps in the same direction when they ruled that governments cannot sue for defamation -- potentially important precedents when a federal agency singles out its enemies for the same alleged wrongdoing.

But nothing can stop it from using your money to try -- just as it uses your money to sue other governments, lobby shamelessly and issue soft-soap propaganda about its alleged good works.
If ever there was a time to support Community AIR, this would be it.
June 21, 2006
CBC News

The Toronto Port Authority has filed a $3-million lawsuit against a community organization and some of its members for defamation.

In its statement of claim, the federal agency alleges it has been defamed by members of Community Air, a non-profit group that has been highly critical of the dealings of the federal agency over the years.

Toronto Island AirportCommunity Air has fought the port authority on issues such as the expansion of the Toronto Island Airport, which the authority owns, and the building of a fixed link to the Toronto Islands.

The lawsuit concerns a briefing memo sent to the federal transport minister in March, then later posted on the community organization's website.

"At the end of the day, fair comment about the port authority and its activities is welcome, but we're not going to allow untruths and personal attacks to go unchallenged," said Lisa Raitt, the agency's president and one of the plaintiffs.

A lawyer representing Community Air and its members said they plan to fight the allegations.

"We really view this as being a 'SLAPP suit' and that's a type of lawsuit that is carried out against community groups and individuals to prevent them from speaking their minds about issues of public importance," said lawyer Louis Sokolov.

SLAPP is an acronym that stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, and refers to a lawsuit with the intention of intimidating or discouraging public participation.

Sokolov also questioned the timing of the lawsuit. Federal Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon announced a review of the Toronto Port Authority last month.

Senior bureaucrat Roger Tassé, who has been hired to conduct the review, is expected to release a report by Sept. 1.

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