Monday, August 3, 2009

SLAPP happy

Any of you ever watch HBO's "The Wire"? It's all done now and it never made it big with audiences but it was the best damn cop drama I've ever seen. It took a couple of episodes to get into it. I almost gave up on it. Seemed too dry, too convoluted. Hell, I had to pay attention; think, even, when watching that show. If I'd dropped it after the second episode, that would've been my big loss because once I got into it, it was like crack. But in a good way.

One thing about the show was that it took no prisoners. Everyone was guilty of something: all the gang bangers were guilty of something, of course, and the mobsters, of course, but so were all cops, politicos, lawyers, union workers, teachers. Everyone had an angle, had some fucked-upness to deal with. No one was spit polished. Everyone was dirty, dented and real.

One message from the show that stands out loud is how corruption is at the core of pretty much any institutional human endeavour. People can pretend it's all above board, that working hard gets us ahead, that holding onto those high moral standards reaps rewards. But, no matter how pure and true we pretend our intentions are, there's a huge chunk of what we do that's all about grabbing as much power and money as we can get our hands on, especially when the other guy isn't looking, and when everyone's grabbing for stuff, there's bound to be fighting, big and small, private and public. And when everyone's grabbing for stuff, there's bound to be some who hardly get anything at all. That guy who holds true to principles, ethics, rules - that's usually the guy who gets hardly anything at all.

It's all chaos out there though, sometimes, by some almost superhuman effort and lots of good luck the good guys win, sort of, but usually it's the bad guys who end up with the trophy because bad is the natural order of things with us.

They could write the same story for any human endeavour. They could easily write the same story for the animal welfare community.

I get sick of the stuff I read, of the stuff I hear. All these people who say they care for animals and all they do is use animals to pad their bank accounts or inflate their power lusting, bloated egos and in almost all these cases there's nothing anyone can do to penetrate the bullshit because it's all so wrapped up in backdoor politics and cash filled envelopes and unenforceable, outdated legislation. And when anyone does try to speak up, the person gets accused of being malicious or slanderous or breaking confidentiality agreements. The person gets hit with a SLAPP suit.

SLAPPs are a beautiful thing for the well-moneyed who don't want their secrets getting out. SLAPPs or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation are used by lawyers representing the ethically questionable but cash endowed to intimidate and silence opposition voices.

You upset and creating controversy with that multi-million dollar developer wanting to pave over that protected wetland with a parking lot? The developer just needs to throw a SLAPP suit at you to get you to shut up, not because what you say is untrue but because you can't afford the legal bills to show that it is true.

SLAPP suits are getting to be a common occurence in the environmental movement. Now, it seems, they're getting to be a common thing in the animal welfare movement.

Let's say you start making noise about a puppy mill, animal shelter, pig farm, circus, whatever, and you've got all sorts of witness testimonies, documents, photos to back up your claims and you think you're safe because you figure you've got the truth on your side. But then the noise you make reaches the ears of the group affected and suddenly you've got a SLAPP suit staring you in the face demanding ten thousand dollars or a million dollars or more. Suddenly, trying to get the truth out is getting awfully expensive. And imagine the personal toll that must take on a person. We're talking about a corporate entity with a six or seven figure warchest at its disposal for teams of lawyers to bear down on, usually, a private individual.

A good strategy for the SLAPP suitors is to prolong the legal process. They know that every extra day in court or additional legal paperwork or rescheduling of witnesses or delay in committee hearings is going to cost money and lots of it. Sure, it may cost both sides about the same amount of money but $50,000 or $100,000 may not be a lot for the corporate entity but it could very easily bankrupt the defendant. Bankruptcy or the threat of bankruptcy shuts most people up.

From Environmental Defence, "SLAPP-Suit Protection Needed in Ontario":

According to the Anti SLAPP Resource Center in Denver, Colorado, most SLAPPs lose in court. They are not intended to win: their “success” comes from silencing opposition in the public arena. Fending off a SLAPP requires an incredible investment of both money and time. Given the power imbalance between environmental and citizen groups and vested industrial interests, SLAPPs can engender such incredible anxiety in their targets that they effectively quell dissent.

What's the point of being right if you lose everything including your shirt to prove it?

SLAPP suits are the newest blunt force trauma weapons of the rich and corrupt Goliaths in their battle against the Davids who are armed with merely the truth and a loud voice. You'll be hearing a lot more about these in the days to come. I guarantee it.

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