About the Blog:

Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hanlon Creek 5 Talk About Getting SLAPPed

It was surprise back in February when five protestor were singled out by the City of Guelph and Belmont Equity for the inflated $5 million price tag assigned to last summer's occupation of the Hanlon Creek Business Park lands - plus - any future disruption on construction on the site. Well, it seems that no one was more surprised than the so-called Hanlon Creek 5 themselves.

Last Friday 4 of the 5 gathered in front of City Hall to talk about what they've won, why they were SLAPPed and what they're going to do next. Matt Soltys, Matt Lowell-Pelletier, Josh Gilbert and Cailey Campbell gathered around a banner emblazoned with the words "Stop the Sprawl" and took turns reading from prepared statements.

Gilbert began by recapping the events of last summer. "There has been overwhelming opposition to the business park at public events, City Hall meetings, and the public consultations that have happened," he said. Gilbert also recounted the numerous envirnomental groups, 500 occupation participants and the two judges that thought the occupiers might have had a point about using the precautionary principle to take a second look at the HCBP as planned.

Next Soltys discussed the definition of SLAPP, or Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation. "This is a legal move where a plaintiff launches a ridiculously high lawsuit at someone who's doing something they don't like," he explained. "The plaintiffs rarely, if ever, win any costs. The real intent of these things is to overwhelm people's lives and prevent them from doing what the plaintiffs don't like."

Soltys further explained that $5 million price tag was unrealistic and absurd. "For one, we don't have any money, and the city knows that. And to say that somehow the five of us are responsible for lost future investment is equally unrealistic."

He also said that the reason he and the four other people named in the suit were highlighted was because they're well known community activists. "[B]y including 'LIMITS' and 'John and Jane Doe' in their lawsuit, the City of Guelph is targeting those who engage in lawful activities and had nothing to do with the occupation."

Soltys then further implied that this was a scare tactic perpetrated by Guelph officials. "The City's auctions have made numerous people feel too threatened to even talk about this issue, much less get involved."

The money issue was raised again by Campbell, who said that the City is putting thousands of dollars of taxpayer money into a suit against five people they know that they can never get a dime from. "We are five people who are living under the poverty line," she explained. "Out only option for economic survival after the lawsuit if the city were to win damages will be to pursue bankruptcy."

Campbell also said that the group was representing themselves in the suit because they can't afford to pay legal fees. Further, the people identified in last summer's injunction on the HCBP occupiers owe approximately $12,000 in legal fees, which is being paid back solely through fundraising efforts. "The costs were at the expense of winning our injunction against the City of Guelph in order to hold them accountable," said Campbell.

But has the the punitive legal action done anything to dampen the enthusiasm or commitment of these activists? It doesn't seem so. "It is up to the collective 'We', this growing environmental resistance movement," said Gilbert. "We need to continue resisting development and building new societies based on mutual aid and co-existence with the natural world that sustains us."

No court date has yet been set to hear the suit, according to the Hanlon Creek 5, they are currently in the process of discovery. About 30 people came out to show their support for the legally entangled quintet.

For more info about the Hanlon Creek 5, or to offer your support click here.

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