Cantley SLAPP case still needs more time

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by Mark Burgess on June 24, 2010

Serge Galipeau and Christine Landry – the Cantley couple that was sued for $1.25 million for speaking out against the Cantley dry dump – may be closer to having the suit against them dismissed but they still left the Hull courthouse disappointed on June 21.

After their May 25 hearing was re-scheduled to allow for a full day in which both the motion to dismiss the defamation suit and the couple’s damage claim would be heard, judge Pierre Dallaire told the court he needed more time to interpret the new anti-SLAPP legislation before determining whether he could rule on the latter. Dump co-owner Denzil Thom didn’t attend the hearing.

Dallaire said there is “a lot of uncertainty” about the application of Bill 9, a law introduced last June that allows judges to dismiss lawsuits seen as abusive, or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP). In particular, the judge wasn’t certain whether he could assess damages as part of the motion to dismiss in cases, such as Galipeau and Landry’s, that pre-date Bill 9′s adoption.

The couple’s lawyer, Michel Lewis, presented three cases he believed demonstrated a precedent but Dallaire was unsatisfied, giving Lewis until June 29 to provide the jurisprudence.

“It’s demoralizing,” Galipeau said of what is the sixth delay in hearing their motion. “It’s the end but it isn’t the end.”

Galipeau is concerned that if the law can’t be applied for damages, it means that part of the ruling must follow the defamation suit’s original timeline, which could mean another year of waiting. The motion to dismiss was expedited as part of the anti-SLAPP legislation.

“If we continue into next year, we’ll be up to $25,000 or $30,000 in lawyer’s fees,” Galipeau said, showing documents that put his tally up to June 21 at $21,759.

He’s concerned the delays are robbing the law of its “spirit”, since his original motion to dismiss was supposed to be heard last September before being re-scheduled first to allow a previous judge time to learn the legislation and then due to bankruptcy filings on the part of the dump owners.

Dallaire heard the motion to dismiss, where Lewis tried to prove prima facie – or at first view – that the case against Galipeau and Landry was abusive. He pointed to the figure in the defamation suit – $1.25 million – as evidence in itself that the Denzil Thom and dump co-owner Gilles Proulx were merely trying to silence his clients.

Lewis also said there were more than 4,000 complaints against the dump at a Quebec Administrative Tribunal. He said that when the dump owners pleaded guilty to environmental infractions that led to the Ministry of Environment closing it in 2006, they were admitting to the same thing Galipeau and Landry – who were leading a citizen’s committee at the time – accused them of.

Since then, Galipeau and Landry have been active in seeing Bill 9 come to fruition last June. The bill gives judges the authority to reject lawsuits considered SLAPPs, to reverse the burden of proof to the plaintiff, and to order the plaintiff to pay the defendant’s legal fees and other damages.

Galipeau and Landry are seeking $625,000 in other damages for the stress and emotional strain of the past 45 months, which includes more than 4,300 hours logged in their defence. While Dallaire acknowledged the couple’s “colossal efforts” and said the court was “not indifferent” to the reality they’ve lived over the course of the fighting the suit, he suggested the amount they were seeking in damages was excessive.

Galipeau said the Dallaire could make a judgment on whether their case is a SLAPP later next week by sending his decision to their lawyer, but the damages could wait for months.

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Cantley SLAPP case still needs more time | Lowdown Online | Quebec Lawyers
06.24.10 at 8:44 am

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