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November 25, 2012

A Resounding SLAPP in the face for Politicians Wishing to Stifle our Freedom of Speech

A-Resounding-SLAPP-in-the-face-for-Politicians-Wishing-to-Stifle-our-Freedom-of-Speech

A-Resounding-SLAPP-in-the-face-for-Politicians-Wishing-to-Stifle-our-Freedom-of-Speech

Freedom of Speech is the fundamental right of every Canadian. This right is, first and foremost, a protection for those of us who speak out about public affairs and public people.

Our Right to Freedom of Speech trumps a politician’s desire to punish those who would say unkind things about her.

If an individual runs for public office, we mere citizens have every right to comment on both their actions and character, and any politician too thin-skinned to deal with that should find something else to do.

Thin-skinned crybaby Phyllis Morris

Thin-skinned crybaby Phyllis Morris

One such thin-skinned politician is the former mayor of Aurora, Ontario, from 2006 until December 1, 2010: Phyllis Morris.

In October of 2010 Morris ran for reelection. By most accounts she wasa pretty lousy mayor, and many news sources commented on her lack of leadership ability, perceived or otherwise.

One critical source was the Aurora Citizen, an online news website aimed at keeping the citizens of Aurora informed about the antics of their elected politicians.Then-mayor Phyllis Morris took exception to an article and subsequent comments about her published on the Aurora Citizen website.

In keeping with her strong beliefs of Freedom and Liberty for all, Phyllis Morris did what all defenders of freedom do when faced with critical opposition: she filed a lawsuit against everyone she could think of to shut them up.

She filed suit against Richard Johnson, William “Bill” Hogg, Elizabeth Bishendon, a number of anonymous bloggers who left comments and, last but not least, Automattic Inc., the makers of the blog software platform WordPress.

That’s akin to filing suit against Microsoft because someone wrote a Word document you didn’t like, or suing Ford Motor Company because you were hit by a drunk driver. I suppose Phyllis Morris figured that if anyone had deep enough pockets to pay off her $6 million lawsuit it would be the makers of WordPress.

Lawsuits like this are only filed for one purpose: to stifle the free expression of ideas and information by a free people. Morris clearly despised criticism and was willing to go to any extreme to stop people from saying things she didn’t like.

This type of lawsuit has occurred often enough to garner its own name: Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation, or SLAPP lawsuit. The sole purpose of a SLAPP lawsuit is to silence someone by the threat a massive judgment against them. In Morris’ case, she sued these individuals and Automattic Inc. for $6 million. That’s a big enough threat to scare most people into silence.

While this sort of lawsuit has already happened many times in Canada, this time the judge clearly saw it for what it was and ruled accordingly.

Let me step back a little so you have the full picture.

Phyllis Morris first filed the lawsuit against anyone she could find:Richard Johnson, William “Bill” Hogg, Elizabeth Bishendon, a number of anonymous blog commenters and the makers of the blogging platform WordPress.

As she was still mayor at the time the suit was filed, she managed to convince the Aurora city council to fund her lawsuit.

She then attempted to have the identities of the anonymous blog commenters revealed so she could name them specifically in her SLAPP lawsuit. She lost that case. Then she made the surprising announcement that she was dropping the case entirely.

I’m sure losing the election and subsequently being forced to fund the lawsuit herself both played a large part in her new-found common sense.

However, since it was Morris who dropped the lawsuit she was still on the hook for the consequences of her ill-advised actions, and defendants Johnson and Hogg found a unique section of law that allowed them to make a claim against Morris for their legal costs.

In a weird turn of events, Morris never even contested the motion for costs and that resulted in a default judgment against her for the legal costs for Johnson and Hogg. Elizabeth Bishenden had already settled previously, so she was not able to sue for costs.

This case is a resounding victory for common sense and our Right to Freedom of Speech, and sends a loud warning to politicians who think they can use public money to silence their critics through abusive actions in the courts.

Since the lawsuit filed against Johnson and Hogg was ruled to be a SLAPP lawsuit, they were entitled to what is called an “elevated award of costs”. This is meant as a deterrent to politicians or corporations who think they can silence dissent through punitive court cases, and it is a very good thing.

Here is the relevant section from the ruling by Master Thomas Hawkins:

[27] The following evidence before me is uncontradicted. Mayor Morris brought this action expressly in her capacity as Mayor of the Corporation of the Town of Aurora. Initially and up to December 14, 2010 she had access to Aurora municipality money to fund this litigation.

The action was commenced without any prior demand letter to Johnson, Hogg or Bishenden from Mayor Morris or her lawyers. The action was commenced without complying with the prior notice provisions of the Libel and Slander Act, R.S.O. 1990 ch. L-12 respecting broadcasts. (Johnson and Hogg take the position that Aurora Citizen “broadcasts” its content as that term is defined in the Libel and Slander Act).

The action was commenced three weeks prior to the municipal election in which Mayor Morris was seeking a second term as mayor. The action was commenced by notice of action rather than by statement of claim. In her notice of action Mayor Morris expressly sought damages of $6,000,000 from the defendants.

In an action for damages it is unusual for the plaintiff to claim a specific amount of damages in the notice of action. The notice of action was served on the defendants Johnson, Hogg and Bishenden immediately and without any statement of claim, in contravention of subrule 14.03 (4).

[28] I infer from these facts that Mayor Morris was not prepared to wait and see if a demand letter would have the desired effect of silencing Johnson, Hogg and Bishenden, and not prepared to wait until her lawyers prepared a statement of claim.

In my view, Mayor Morris wanted to hit Johnson, Hogg and Bishenden quickly and hard, in order to silence them as her critics sooner rather than later in the weeks leading up to the October 25, 2010 municipal elections.

[29] I therefore come to the conclusion that this action is indeed SLAPP litigation.

Morris was so desperate to shut up Johnson, Hogg and Bishenden that she couldn’t be bothered to file her lawsuit in a legal manner. She wanted these people silenced, and silenced immediately. That was all she cared about, and attaching a $6 million price tag to their Right to Freedom of Speech all but guaranteed the three would indeed be silenced.

That is just plain wrong.Abusive bully tactics from thin-skinned whiners like Phyllis Morris can never be permitted.

It’s obscene that, in a nation that supposedly prides itself on the Rights and Freedoms of every citizen, a politician at any level of government would dare try to extort a citizen into silence.

That Phyllis Morris now must pay back $21,275 in legal costs to Johnson and Hogg is the loudest and best “shot across the bow” I’ve ever had the pleasure to write about.

It’s refreshing to see our right to Freedom of Speech upheld so convincingly, and that a politician so clearly undeserving of elected office as Phyllis Morris was soundly put in her place.

 

In closing, I would urge you to read the entire 6-page ruling by Master Thomas Hawkins for yourself. It’s great reading!

 

My previous articles on the Phyllis Morris case:

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October 22, 2011

Former Aurora, ON Mayor Phyllis Morris finally drops her $6 million lawsuit against bloggers

Phyllis Morris

Some time ago I wrote about the asinine lawsuit filed by a petty politician, Phyllis Morris,  over comments made about her during an election… an election in which her past record as mayor came back to bite her in the butt.  She lost the election by a landslide not because some bloggers commented about her track record, but because her own actions showed she was not competent for the job.

The [allegedly] moronic former mayor has finally dropped her lawsuit against Richard Johnson, Bill Hogg, and Elizabeth Bishenden and, believe it or not, the makers of the WordPress blogging platform, Automattic Inc.

Those previous articles, “Phyllis Morris despises Free Speech, sues everyone she can think of for $6 million!” and “Court of Public Opinion Renders Verdict in Phyllis Morris case: Guilty of Gross Stupidity” made it clear that this woman was out of control and her actions were nothing more than a SLAPP lawsuit… the acronym for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

SLAPP lawsuits are now illegal for the very reason they are designed to accomplish one thing and one thing only: silence Freedom of Speech through court action.

They’re the antithesis of what Canadians stand for, and yet this is the very thing the [allegedly] moronic Phyllis Morris did when she didn’t like what people were writing about her in public forums.

I have little tolerance for people like Ms. Morris, and for obvious reasons.

(more…)

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August 6, 2011

Court of Public Opinion Renders Verdict in Phyllis Morris case: Guilty of Gross Stupidity

Phyllis Morris

Phyllis Morris has gained a lot of notoriety since she lost her re-election bid to keep her job as mayor of Aurora, Ontario.  It was during that election that she got just a little too big for her own britches and started suing anyone and everyone who was related to a couple of blog posts she didn’t like.

She even went after the people she claimed should have deleted the anonymous posts that offended her, Richard Johnson, Bill Hogg and Elizabeth Bishenden, suing them for 6 million dollars.

Darn! I almost forgot to mention, she even named Automattic Inc., the company that gave the world the WordPress blogging platform, in her lawsuit too.  Clearly Phyllis Morris was out to grab a big payday.  Either that or she’s just lost her bloody mind, which is not that difficult a conclusion to come to;  suing the company that created a software program because you don’t like how someone uses that software program is [allegedly] absurd, retarded, moronic, stupid, asinine, pathetic, childish… (Did I miss any other suitable adjectives?)

But the [alleged] lunatic Phyllis Morris isn’t letting it go, either, despite the fact she lost her bid to have the anonymous bloggers’ names revealed so she could go after them too. As she threatened to do, she is appealing the decision of Justice Carole Brown, who tossed Morris’ absurd case out of court.  It was the right thing to do.

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June 18, 2011

Phyllis Morris despises Free Speech, sues everyone she can think of for $6 million!

Freedom of Speech is one of the foundational principles of Canada. It is essential that individuals are able to freely speak their minds without being afraid of some dumb-ass politician filing a $6 million lawsuit against them.

Phyllis Morris is [allegedly] one of those dumb-ass politicians. Former politician, to be exact. She was the mayor of the Town of Aurora, Ontario, until voters tossed her out of office in the 2010 municipal election.

I guess they thought she wasn’t much of a mayor.

Morris was very upset with the posts of some anonymous bloggers on a local website during the runup to the 2010 municipal election. The comments were critical of her actions as Aurora’s mayor.

That’s absolutely fair game for public comment, during an election or not. Get over it.

A mayor is a public official, and her decisions (both good and bad) are always open to debate by the citizens who pay her salary. Morris’s deep-seated need to stifle any negative commentary about her ability to perform her duties as mayor clearly makes her unfit for the job, in my opinion. For that reason alone I applaud the good citizens of Aurora for tossing her from office.

Since the actual writers of the comments that offended her were anonymous, she sued the next people in line; people she claims were moderators of the comments for this particular blog, Richard Johnson, Bill Hogg, and Elizabeth Bishenden.

That’s not the most ridiculous part of the her lawsuit either. She’s actually named the creators of the WordPress blogging software as defendants to this lawsuit too.

No, I’m not making this up!

(more…)

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