Canadian Attack on U.S. Free Speech — an Unwelcome Export

Canada, the great white north — land of Mounties, lumberjacks, double-doubles, twofers, toques and universal healthcare. Nice people, one and all, eh?

Not so much anymore. At least not their corporations — specifically, in the oilpatch.

A few Canuck corporate hosers are spoiling their nations’ pure-as-the-driven-snow reputation by suing its citizenry left and right, and they are spreading the litigious beaver taint to their neighbor to the south. As Democracy Tree reported last month, TransCanada sued some Texas environmental activists into silence, but that’s just the tip the iceberg.

Canada has traditionally enjoyed broad free speech protections under their constitutional Charter — Section 2(b) states that  “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: … freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.” Canadian courts have a long history of upholding these rights and consistently supporting expression over controls.

But in April of last year, the Canadian Supreme Court approved Ontario Corporations’ ability to file cross-border defamation lawsuits, which are frequently SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) meant to silence dissent and activism through unending legal harassment and intimidation. The Canadian oil industry has a long history of SLAPPing activists, and now they can ship more than just their oil around the world– they can export legal terrorism as well.  In the wake of a dramatic increase in the use of this tactic, the Ontario government convened a group of legal experts to form an Anti-SLAPP Advisory Panel whose efforts help provide some domestic protections and remedies. 

As recently reported in AlertNet, these corporate bullies have found a new way to harass activist organizations within their borders. Late last year, Ethical Oil.org, a lobby group for oil sands development demanded the Canada Revenue Agency (equivalent to the IRS) investigate alleged tax code violations of various non-profit environmental agencies, included among them are the Canadian Sierra Club, Tides Canada, Environmental Defense and the David Suzuki Foundation. Repeated threats of tax audits would not be covered under anti-SLAPP policies.

It’s only a matter of time before these corporations try making similar claims in the U.S., and elsewhere, about the tax exempt status of environmental non-profits. The IRS has traditionally been reluctant to pull tax exempt status from churches that blatantly engage in political speech, so let’s hope they have the good sense to say “take-off, you hoser!” to these Canadian bullies.

Amy Kerr Hardin This article also appears in Voters Legislative Transparency Project

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