This is a follow-up to an August 2022 piece that outlined a defamation claim between Kulvinder Gill, the University of Ottawa, and a professor named Amir Attaran. Attaran and the University were sued for $7 million back in March 2021 over 2 insulting tweets.
Finally, there seems to be some movement. The Defendants have initiated an anti-SLAPP Motion to get the lawsuit thrown out as “gag proceedings”, or as an attempt to shut down public discourse. The hearing is set for October of 2024, a year from now.
Attaran himself responded to an inquiry, and confirmed that it’s a SLAPP Motion. He said that his demands for a public apology had been refused, and now he wants his day in Court.
Ontario has an online search tool, which makes it easy to track how cases are progressing. Court documents are also considered public records, and are open to anyone, with limited exceptions.
A Notice of Intent was filed back in June 2021, although not an actual Statement of Defence. Then the case sat idly for over 2 years. Looking at the content in the Statement of Claim, it’s not hard to see why. The quotes are from page 9.
As an aside, the date in Paragraph 34 is wrong. It references a July 28th, 2021 article, which would have been after this suit was filed.
The suit is frivolous, to put it mildly. Gill is suing for millions over a Twitter spat, which included the above statements. Anti-SLAPP laws (Section 137.1 of the Courts of Justice Act for Ontario) are meant to protect against this sort of thing.
The first tweet is insulting, but is unlikely to be considered defamation. The second one appears to be Attaran just trolling Gill.
Even if Attaran genuinely views Gill as an idiot, these remarks — while distasteful — would probably be viewed as opinion, and protected as fair comment.
An additional problem is that Gill will most likely be unable to prove that she suffered any damages as a result of these comments. Twitter is known as a cesspool, where people say rude and insulting things.
She’ll also find it difficult to convince a Judge that shutting down discourse like this will be in the public interest. Understandably, the the Courts tend to lean towards protecting speech and expression.
It’s worth pointing out there’s no requirement that speech or expression be beneficial or helpful in order to be protected as public expression. As long as it’s on a subject that a segment of the population might care about, then s.137.1 applies. The above comments were in the context of arguing over lockdown measures.
With these things in mind, the anti-SLAPP Motion is certain to prevail.
Posting these kinds of comments online won’t damage Gill’s reputation or her work prospects. However, suing over them just makes her look unhinged or vindictive.
Gill was also abandoned by previous counsel. It’s unclear, at least from what’s available here, who will be representing her at this Motion. As the 2024 date draws near, expect an update, along with more filings.
In other news:
This also isn’t Gill’s first attempt at silencing critics. February 2024, a $12.75 million suit was thrown out as a SLAPP. In October 2022, she and Ashvinder Lamba — but mostly just Gill — were ordered to pay over $1.1 million in fees to the Defendants’ lawyers. Back in December 2020, she and Lamba sued 23 people and organizations over essentially the same type of comments as this.
Instead of paying costs — as they likely can’t afford to — the ruling was appealed. It has just dragged on. At least 1 of the Respondents has made accusations that the Appeal is an attempt to circumvent the costs Order. A hearing is scheduled next week to determine whether costs must be put up in advance by Gill. More on that later.
It’s bizarre that Gill had been embraced by the “freedom movement” over the last few years. She’s done more to attempt to chill free speech in Canada than just about anyone.