Given the developments since the costs decision was handed down against Kulvinder Gill and Ashvinder Lamba, it seems that a follow-up piece is required. Justice Stewart decided that the failed defamation lawsuit — dismissed as a SLAPP — merited full indemnity against the Plaintiffs. The price tag is about $1.1 million.
As an aside, it appears that National Post, as well as several mainstream outlets have covered the decision, and even credited this site for the research. That’s interesting. The comments pictured above are from this article.
However, it seems from the comments posted that a lot of people don’t really understand what happened, or why. Gill and Lamba weren’t in Court because someone tried to censor their speech. Instead, they sued 23 people and organisations for $12.75 million in order to silence them for their ideas, beliefs and opinions.
Gill and Lamba didn’t sue the CPSO, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, for their practices. This was aimed primarily at critics on Twitter.
Moreover, this wasn’t for some nominal amounts, designed to make a point. Gill and Lamba demanded damages to the degree that would have bankrupted people, had they been successful.
Most readers here have already gone through the Statement of Claim filed in December 2020, and the February 2022 dismissal as a SLAPP, or strategic lawsuit against public participation. If not, they are essential for background information.
Not only were the Defendants faced with losses — roughly $500,000 each, had they lost — but they were forced to pay large sums of money to lawyers to protect themselves. The above includes the amounts that the Defendants claimed.
Gill and Lamba objected, stating that there was considerable duplication in the work done, and that the costs seem absurd. They have a point. That being said, they brought this on themselves. What exactly did they think would happen?
People in the freedom community would be outraged if some “lefty” or “commie” attempted to use the courts as a weapon to silence free speech. They would call this out as censorship and of weaponizing the legal system. It would never be tolerated.
However, Gill and Lamba did exactly the same thing — or at least tried to — and many of these freedom lovers celebrate them as heroes. The lack of awareness is amazing.
Had someone sued Gill for millions of dollars because she called them an “idiot”, many would rally to her defense. Meanwhile, she did just that to Amir Attaran, and there is complete silence. $7 million for two rude tweets is ridiculous.
According to the February ruling, some Defendants who sent rude tweets to Gill had since offered public apologies to her, and she still filed suit against them. Not at all a good look.
That’s right, apologies were made, but Gill tried to bankrupt them anyway.
The point is: if someone supports free and open discourse, regardless of how testy it can be, then it has to be done consistently. We cannot selectively censor, depending on one’s beliefs.
Gill and Lamba filed Notice of Appeal in March 2022. This was against the SLAPP decision. In a nutshell, they argue that the case should not have been dismissed, but sent to Trial instead. Costs were not factored in, as the cost ruling hadn’t happened at that point.
From the National Post:
Jeff Saikaley, Gill’s lawyer, said neither he nor his client would comment as she is appealing both this week’s decision on costs, and the ruling in February that dismissed the lawsuit.”
Taken at face value, it implies that a second Appeal is coming, with this specific to the cost award that just came down. One has to ask what kind of advice these doctors are getting. Both Appeals are doomed, and here’s an explanation of why:
Appeal #1: Dismissal As Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation
To understand why this is baseless, look up s.137.1 Courts of Justice Act for Ontario. The criteria is laid out pretty clearly.
Order to dismiss
(3) On motion by a person against whom a proceeding is brought, a judge shall, subject to subsection (4), dismiss the proceeding against the person if the person satisfies the judge that the proceeding arises from an expression made by the person that relates to a matter of public interest. 2015, c. 23, s. 3.
(4) A judge shall not dismiss a proceeding under subsection (3) if the responding party satisfies the judge that,
(a) there are grounds to believe that,
(i) the proceeding has substantial merit, and
(ii) the moving party has no valid defence in the proceeding; and
(b) the harm likely to be or have been suffered by the responding party as a result of the moving party’s expression is sufficiently serious that the public interest in permitting the proceeding to continue outweighs the public interest in protecting that expression. 2015, c. 23, s. 3.
Without going too deep, this is how it works. First, the Defendant must convince the Judge that the speech or expression is of a public interest matter. This is the “threshold burden” and it’s very low.
At that point, the burden shifts to the Plaintiff, who must show:
(a) There is substantial merit;
(b) There are no valid, reasonable defenses; and
(c) The harm outweighs public interest in allowing this expression
In the February ruling, Justice Stewart ruled that the Plaintiffs consistently failed to meet this 3-part test. Keep in mind: if any part fails, then all of it fails. Simply meeting 1 or 2 parts isn’t enough.
For most of the claims, the Plaintiffs couldn’t even meet a single branch of it.
This isn’t to agree with, or justify what the Defendants had to say. The purpose of anti-SLAPP laws is to keep public discourse going by filtering out just these kinds of cases.
Here is the Factum of the Medical Post and Tristan Bronca. All the Factums (arguments) follow this basic formula: (a) expression meets threshold burden; and (b) Plaintiff can’t meet test to avoid dismissal.
There’s significant case law in that Factum, and is worth a read.
The standard for review is given by Housen v. Nikolaisen, 2002 SCC 33. It describes the standards used to review: (a) errors of fact; (b) errors of law; and (c) mixed fact and law.
Prediction: this Appeal will go nowhere.
Appeal #2: Full Indemnity Costs Against Gill/Lamba
Going back to s.137.1 of the Courts of Justice Act:
No further steps in proceeding
(5) Once a motion under this section is made, no further steps may be taken in the proceeding by any party until the motion, including any appeal of the motion, has been finally disposed of. 2015, c. 23, s. 3.
No amendment to pleadings
(6) Unless a judge orders otherwise, the responding party shall not be permitted to amend his or her pleadings in the proceeding,
(a) in order to prevent or avoid an order under this section dismissing the proceeding; or
(b) if the proceeding is dismissed under this section, in order to continue the proceeding. 2015, c. 23, s. 3.
These anti-SLAPP laws are quite powerful. Once a Motion is started, then the case is stayed, and nothing else can happen. This also prohibits Plaintiffs from making necessary amendments to pleadings in order to avoid a dismissal.
It also provides guidance on costs.
Costs on dismissal
(7) If a judge dismisses a proceeding under this section, the moving party is entitled to costs on the motion and in the proceeding on a full indemnity basis, unless the judge determines that such an award is not appropriate in the circumstances. 2015, c. 23, s. 3.
Costs if motion to dismiss denied
(8) If a judge does not dismiss a proceeding under this section, the responding party is not entitled to costs on the motion, unless the judge determines that such an award is appropriate in the circumstances. 2015, c. 23, s. 3.
(9) If, in dismissing a proceeding under this section, the judge finds that the responding party brought the proceeding in bad faith or for an improper purpose, the judge may award the moving party such damages as the judge considers appropriate. 2015, c. 23, s. 3.
Full indemnity (100% of costs) is seen as the starting point in these kinds of cases. Justice Stewart is entirely within her discretion to do this.
According to Volpe v. Wong-Tam, 2022 ONSC 4071 (CanLII), paragraph 25, there’s significant, and recent history in handing down full indemnity on SLAPP cases.
(i) $164,186.76 in Canadian Thermo Workers, at para. 147,
(ii) $132,000 in Bernier v. Kinsella, 2022 ONSC 1601, at paras. 10-14,
(iii) $151,741.51 to the moving party Al Jazeera in Levant, ordered by the Court of Appeal at para. 92,
(iv) $131,076 in Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, at para. 23,
(v) $129,106.61 plus HST in Fortress Real Developments, at para. 76, and
(vi) $122,286.94 to the defendant Ms. Mohammed and $126,438.55 to the defendant Ms. Barclay in United Soils Management, at paras. 10, 17, and 43.
Granted, the $1.1 million award here is much higher than any listed above. However, with 23 people and businesses sued, it was bound to be messy.
Arguably, Gill and Lamba dodged a bullet. The Judge could easily have included damages, given how frivolous it was.
Defendants Already Going After Their Money
A source confirmed that the Defendants are already looking at ways to recoup their money. This includes attempting to seize assets, and to get Gill’s and Lamba’s wages garnished. Being public doctors, they are presumably paid through OHIP.
Apparently, the LSO, Law Society of Ontario, has also been approached. There is a compensation fund set up for victims of malpractice or misconduct committed by lawyers. If Gill goes bankrupt or otherwise refuses to pay, it may be the only recourse for some of the Defendants. Not all of them have insurance.
The current Appeal on the dismissal has little to no prospect of success. Anti-SLAPP laws were designed to weed out these kinds of cases. A separate Appeal is being considered for costs, but that would be a tough sell, considering costs are discretionary.
As for the suit with the University of Ottawa and Amir Attaran, Gill would be well advised to discontinue that before she’s faced with another anti-SLAPP Motion. The filing has zero chance of success.
When you’re in a hole, stop digging.
It would be nice to know what kind of advice they’ve been getting. These decisions aren’t something that intelligent, fully informed people typically make.
And for true supporters of free speech and open discourse: be very careful about embracing Gill and Lamba as heroes. What they tried to do is downright shocking.
KULVINDER GILL/ASHVINDER LAMBA CASE:
(1) Gill/Lamba Defamation Lawsuit December 2020
(2) Gill/Lamba Factum Of Medical Post Tristan Bronca
(3) Gill/Lamba Case Dismissed As A SLAPP
(4) Gill/Lamba Notice of Appeal and Appellants’ Certificate
(5) Gill/Lamba Appeal – Notice of Intention to Dismiss Appeal for Delay, May 12, 2022
(6) Gill/Lamba July 15 Letter To Obtain New Counsel
(7) Gill/Lamba Case Conference Brief July 29, 2022
(8) Gill/Lamba Endorsement New Counsel Cost Submissions August 3, 2022
(9) Gill/Lamba Case $1.1 Million In Costs Ordered October 31, 2022
KULVINDER GILL/ATTARAN/UOTTAWA CASE
(1) Gill-Attaran Statement Of Claim
(2) Gill Attaran Affidavit Of Service
(3) Gill-Attaran Notice Of Intent