BC SPCA sues AAS for defamation in BC Supreme Court. The action (L042174) was commenced August 30th, 2004 in BC Supreme Court.
President Judy Stone used the equity in her home to defend the lawsuit.
An unknown amount of SPCA funds have been spent trying to silence the small volunteer, not-for-profit group and its AAS website.
January 2001: First legal threat to sue Judy Stone.
October 2002: Second legal threat was to sue AAS's server, Net Nation.
August 2004: The SPCA starts a legal action for defamation in BC Supreme Court. Sixty-one page Statement of Claim, containing approximately 10,000 words being sued upon, served to ten defendants.
October 2005: SPCA-demanded mediation abandoned over wording of SPCA’s pre-mediation agreement.
December 2005: Amended Statement of Claim filed by SPCA. Defendants Hughes and Nagle dropped.
Spring 2006: Notices to Admit served by the SPCA on some of the defendants.
February 2007: BC SPCA Application for an Order of Confidentiality. The order would have prevented AAS and the other defendants from making any use of documents included in the BC SPCA's List of Documents for any purpose outside the litigation, unless they could establish the document was "otherwise lawfully available in the public domain".
AAS opposed the application. The Order the BC SPCA was seeking would have covered several hundred documents that the AAS already possesses. AAS argued that this action would unfairly limit its freedom of expression as an animal welfare advocacy group, to have to prove those documents were "lawfully available in the public domain", before it could use them in ways related to its work but unrelated to the lawsuit.
In its affidavit sworn in response to the BC SPCA's application, AAS referred to seven other specific instances where the BC SPCA had either threatened or brought defamation actions against other persons or groups that had made negative statements about the organization. It has always been AAS's position that the BC SPCA's lawsuit against it and the other defendants is a "SLAPP" suit, meant to discourage AAS and others from making statements about the SPCA that it considers critical.
February 2007: The BC SPCA abandoned its application for the extraordinary confidentiality order it was seeking.
June 2007: SPCA amended its Statement of Claim again. It discontinued and abandoned the part of its claim relating to comments on the AAS website which dealt with issues of incompetence by the SPCA; a large, easily defendable section that cost money for Stone to defend, and it dropped two of the defendants from the action.
April to July 2007: The Defendants attended weeks of examinations for discovery where they were questioned by the SPCA lawyers. The SPCA representative, Mr. Craig Daniell, was examined by our lawyer for 5 1/2 days during July and August of 2007
September 2007: Trial adjourned.
February 5 2009: SPCA forces Judy Stone and all the other defendants to attend mediation by the SPCA which cost Stone thousands of dollars. SPCA had nothing acceptable to offer. Stone offered a reasonable solution to the central problem of secrecy and lack of accountability. Mediation failed.
August 2009: SPCA applies to
substantially amend its Claim again. That makes three very different
statements of claim in this lawsuit, each smaller than the one
In its first claim the SPCA said 10,000 words were defamatory. It was enormously expensive to defend 10,000 words. Then, after getting to see all defendants' evidence, evidence that would shock and horrify BC's animal-lovers, it wants to reduce its claim to a very few carefully chosen words, words that, it is apparent, the SPCA hopes will effectively keep that evidence out of court. That is proof of this being a SLAPP suit: a lawsuit brought by the wealthy and powerful against a weaker person to force them into silence. Persisting in the lawsuit, even when the plaintiff knows the truth of the words it is suing for, in the hope that the defendant will not have the evidence or will give in or will run out of money, is another way SLAPP suits work. The SPCA has done that before to other people. Reducing its claim by approximately 96% is one of the proofs that this is a SLAPP suit that the public has a right to know about.
The SPCA's SLAPP suit has not worked through many years of expensive legal wrangling. Reducing its claim to what it thinks will keep our evidence out of court is just another way for it to suppress the public knowledge of the evidence we have to prove our words. I used the only financial resource I had - the equity in my home - to defend my words. Whose money did the SPCA use? Did it use money that donors thought was going to animal welfare? When asked, it did not answer.
AAS was performing a valued public service with its investigations and documentation of the SPCA's fraud, cruelty, misleading statements about its "euthanasia" figures, and the reasons for which it kills, among many other instances of wrongdoing and dishonesty. “Surely something is very wrong when BC SPCA Directors quit and post their reasons on the AAS WatchDog board, saying that the only place to know what is really going on with cruelty prevention in BC is to read AAS,” said BC SPCA past-president Rick Sargent.
Some of the dishonesty is still happening. Some rescuers know that they must take the old or sick that the SPCA offers them or the animal will be killed. Rescuers know that they must keep silent about that form of bullying or be blacklisted. (Read "Munchkin's Story)September 2009: An 8 week trial was set to commence on September 28. The Trial is adjourned generally at the request of the SPCA because it argued that, after 5 years, there is insufficient time to prepare for trial.
Animal Advocates Society (AAS) is a BC-based organization that acts on behalf of abandoned and suffering animals. AAS works around the principles of research, rescue, rehabilitate, rehome, and reform.
“In order to defend this lawsuit, which could cost up to $700,000, I’ve used my home’s equity. Whose money did the SPCA use?” asked Judy Stone, founder of the Animal Advocates Society. “Wouldn’t that money be better used on spaying and neutering all the animals it sells, and treating disease, instead of killing sick animals?
“We are not the first organization to be threatened or sued by the SPCA,” said Stone. “The SPCA won’t disclose how much it has spent to silence people by paying them or threatening them.
“Surely something is very wrong when BC SPCA Directors quit and post their reasons on the AAS WatchDog board, saying that the only place to know what is really going on with cruelty prevention in BC is to read AAS,” said BC SPCA past-president Rick Sargent.
By publishing materials concerning the BC SPCA, whether critical of it or not, on the AAS website and in WatchDog posts, emails, newsletters, and letters to the SPCA and others, it has always been the goal of AAS, to bring about lasting positive change to the BC SPCA and its policies, practices, and procedures, as the largest and most powerful animal welfare organization in the province. This has been stated on the AAS website for seven years. AAS has repeatedly written that it does not want to do the SPCA any financial harm; that in fact we want the SPCA to be financially strong so that it may practice real animal welfare and do real cruelty prevention according to the standards we believe animal-lovers expect and the many small alternative societies practice. For several years after the SPCA announced in 2001 that it would reform its animal-disposing policies and practices, AAS defended some very questionable actions that the SPCA continued, for the oft-stated reason that we were trying to be fair to the SPCA and give it the time necessary to radically change an entrenched animal-disposal business. Over the last four years, we also organized letter-writing campaigns that resulted in the SPCA finally changing a number of important animal-welfare policies that many people found shockingly unethical. Although the SPCA held a Community Consultation process in 2001, and in its report pointed out that the contracting business of animal control/disposal (the dog-catcher) was causing the most public dissatisfaction and loss of support for the SPCA, the animal control/disposal contracting business is still being aggressively pursued by the SPCA.
AAS has alleged that this litigation against it is designed to suppress criticism of the BC SPCA and its operations by AAS and others. In other words, AAS believes that this lawsuit is a "SLAPP" suit.
"Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation", or SLAPP, is a phrase coined by US researchers to describe a class of lawsuit that seems designed more to silence public criticism than to receive legitimate compensation. The researchers state: "In contrast to most litigation, the SLAPP suit is brought, not to resolve a problem, but to remove a controversy from the political arena..." As the target of one SLAPP suit stated: "The law of defamation is supposed to protect people's reputations from unfair attack. In practice its main effect is to hinder free speech and protect powerful people from scrutiny. Defamation actions and threats to sue for defamation are often used to try to silence those who criticize people with money and power."
AAS considers that (at the time of the commencement of this action), that instead of funding improved animal welfare, the BC SPCA was funding lawsuits and threats of lawsuits against the advocates of reform. How many more attempts have been made by the SPCA to use or threaten to use the courts to suppress complainants' information? How many lawyers have been hired to negotiate out-of-court settlements with complainants and ex-employees? BC SPCA members and donors deserve answers to those questions. BC SPCA members and donors also deserve to know how many hundreds of thousands the SPCA has paid in legal bills for the litigation against AAS. SPCA members have asked and received no answer at all.
The defendants abhor this litigation as they consider that every dollar spent by the BC SPCA and by themselves on this litigation, is a dollar that will not be used to assist animals in need. However, they believe that they must nonetheless continue to defend their right to express their opinions on animal-welfare and to speak out against what they perceive to be animal-welfare errors made by the BC SPCA.
Read letters from SPCA employees, volunteers, rescuers, and ex-SPCA donors.