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B.C. judge dismisses defamation lawsuit in what defence is calling a win for public debate

Lawsuit pertained to 24 statements made in relation to pending bylaw amendment in Qualicum Beach
Ezra Morse, president of the Qualicum Nature Preservation Society, seen here speaking to the crowd during a March for the Future event in Qualicum Beach. (PQB News file photo)

The Supreme Court of B.C. has dismissed a defamation lawsuit launched by a developer against a Vancouver Island environment group tied to public debate over a development proposal.

Justice Jan Brongers dismissed all allegations agains the Qualicum Nature Preservation Society (QNPS) and its president on Aug. 8. A four day dismissal hearing was held in February.

The suit, brought forward by Richard Todsen, Linda Todsen and Todsen Design & Construction Ltd, pertained to 24 statements made in relation to a pending Town of Qualicum Beach bylaw amendment and zoning approval. The amendment would permit higher density development within Qualicum Beach’s Estate Residential Area.

Justice Brongers said he did not find Ezra Morse, QNPS president, was actuated by malice when he expressed his opinions, nor did he find the Todsens were actuated by malice when they responded with their claim.

“Rather, the situation here is fundamentally one where two parties have strong opposing views about the merits of a proposed land development and its potential impact on the environment,” Brongers said in the court document.

READ MORE: Qualicum Nature Preservation Society files motion to dismiss defamation claim

“This dismissal application was an important test for BC’s anti-SLAPP law,” said Chris Tollefson, legal counsel for Morse, in a news release. “Justice Brongers’ decision should reassure the public that our courts will safeguard their rights to democratic expression on matters of public interest as long as they are exercised in an honest and responsible manner.”

QNPS and Morse claimed their right to democratic expression was protected under the Protection of Public Participation Act (PPPA) and, in July 2021, applied to have the lawsuit dismissed as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP — lawsuits intended to silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.

“This legislation, enacted unanimously by the BC Legislature in 2019, restores the primacy of community discussion in municipal affairs,” said Jason Gratl, counsel for QNPS, in a news release. “Project proponents who feel their projects are beyond criticism cannot leverage the courts to shut down democratic debate.”

Linda Todsen told the PQB News, in an email, the Todsens were not at liberty to comment at this time, as the matter is still with their lawyers.

“I will share our story and our experience with you at a more appropriate time,” Todsen said.

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Kevin Forsyth

About the Author: Kevin Forsyth

As a lifelong learner, I enjoy experiencing new cultures and traveled around the world before making Vancouver Island my home.
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