Cote des Neiges advocacy group successfully battles SLAPP suit
When Luzviminda Peralta rented her apartment on Barclay St. in the 1990s, the Filipina immigrant had no idea she had the right to demand repairs and improvements from her landlord, as vermin and mildew surrounded her.
“I'm a poor woman who came to Canada to seek a greener pasture to help my children in my country. But then I met this kind of landlord,” she said.
Like many poor tenants in Cote des Neiges, she turned to the community group Oeil, which keeps an eye on landlord practices.
Director Claude Dagneau zeroed in on one landlord, Eisig Rossdeutscher, and recurring problems -- cockroaches, mold, dirt, doors that never locked -- in one of his buildings.
Dagneau and Oeil were successful in representing Peralta against Rossdeutscher at the rental board as they've done against other landlords in Cote des Neiges
What rattled the landlord the most is the fact that Oeil would make a point of going into the apartment buildings to distribute leaflets to tenants to remind them of their rights.
Rossdeutscher passed away in 2010. But his family, which bought several more apartment buildings, sued Oeil for $5.6 million in 2012, claiming defamation on the part of the non-profit group.
Oeil operates on a tiny budget, with just four employees.
“I said to myself what's this. Where are they going with this,” said Dagneau.
With the help of a social activist lawyer, Oeil managed to have the lawsuit tossed out because it was considered abusive, and meant to ruin the organization with legal fees.
It's commonly called a SLAPP lawsuit, which means a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or a lawsuit that is intended to censor and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of legal fees.
Last month the Quebec court of Appeal also refused to hear the Rossdeutscher’s case. It's a clear victory for Oeil, though at the same time, a bittersweet one.
“We're not going into their building in order to avoid having them accusing us of this and that, making other frivolous claim against us,” Dagneau said
The Rossdeutscher family declined to respond to requests for comment.
The rejection of the lawsuit by the courts now means Oeil is also entitled to hundreds of thousands to reimburse court cost and legal fees from the Rossdeutschers, the very people who sued them.