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Fair Comment

Protesters who are blind to any science that contradicts their beliefs feel that they can say whatever they want about fish farming.

They seem to believe that the law protects them under “free speech” or “fair comment.” Recently the Court of Appeal for British Columbia has shown that this is not the case.

fair comment

To claim a fair comment defence you must have facts to back up your comments, or clearly designate your comments as opinions, not claims of fact.

Fair comment is a legal term for a common law defense in defamation cases (libel or slander)… In Canada, for something to constitute fair comment, the comment must be on a matter of public interest (excluding gossip), based on known and provable facts, must be an opinion that any person is capable of holding based on those facts, and with no actual malice underlying it. The cardinal test of whether a statement is fair comment is whether it is recognizable as an opinion rather than a statement of fact, and whether it could be drawn from the known facts.”

This recent appeal decision started with a court case last year.

On September 28, 2012 Mainstream Canada, a fish farming company, took Don Staniford, a vocal anti-fish farm protester, to court. The reason:

“On January 31, 2011, Mr. Staniford, under the name of the “Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture” or “GAAIA,” launched a campaign attacking salmon farming…
As part of the GAAIA campaign, Mr. Staniford issued a press release on January 31, 2011, publishing it on the GAAIA website. The press release reads in part (hyperlinks underlined):
Salmon Farming Kills – Global Health Warning Issued on Farmed Salmon
Vancouver, British Columbia – The newly formed Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture (GAAIA) this week launched a smoking hot international campaign against Big Aquaculture. ‘Salmon Farming Kills’ employs similar graphic imagery to the ‘Smoking Kills’ campaigns against Big Tobacco and warns of the dangers of salmon farming. …
The copy of the press release sent to the media includes four mock cigarette packages, all modelled after the packaging for Marlboro brand cigarettes…The packages contain the following statements: “Salmon Farming Kills,” “Salmon Farming is Poison,” “Salmon Farming is Toxic” and “Salmon Farming Seriously
Damages Health.” The web-version of the press release had a total of twelve cigarette packages.”

The fact that the Norwegian flag was used on this fake packaging and that Mainstream Canada is owned in part by the Norwegian government led them to believe that this attack was aimed at them.

Despite the fact that there was a lack of scientific papers backing up these claims linked on the GAAIA website, Judge Adair of the Supreme Court of Canada ruled:

“Although I have concluded that Mr. Staniford’s statements are defamatory of Mainstream, I have concluded that he should succeed on his defence of fair comment. I have found that he was actuated by express malice towards Mainstream. However, I have found that he had an honest belief in the statements he made, and injuring Mainstream because of spite or animosity was not his dominant purpose in publishing the words in issue.”

According to Judge Adair, if you believe your statements you are free to make them. What the Judge missed was that Staniford was not making statements of his beliefs (as in: I believe that salmon farming kills, or I feel that salmon farming is evil) but was trying to make statements of fact. He did not post evidence to back up his claims.

Because of this, Mainstream Canada appealed this ruling.

On July 22, 2013 Justice Tysoe of the Court of Appeal for British Columbia ruled that:

“The trial judge erred in finding the test for the defence of fair comment was satisfied.  The defamatory publications did not identify by a clear reference the facts upon which the comments were based that were contained in other documents.”

Don Staniford is a classic cyber-bully. His only goal is to rid the world of salmon farms, either in the ocean or on land. He is malicious in his intent and will not stop until he has reached his goal. He has shown he is willing to ignore any information that contradicts his views and that he is a single-minded zealot. He has shown that he thinks it’s OK to mock and ridicule anyone who dares to oppose his views.

Thankfully the courts in Canada are willing to stand up to bullies and demand that they back up their claims with facts. I don’t believe that this ruling will slow Staniford down in his pursuits but it does send a clear message to activists: do your homework before you open your mouths.

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2013 in News, Opinion

 

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Bullies Pretending to be Journalists.

Bullying can take on many forms; name calling, peer pressure, as well as physical or emotional abuse. Put those in multimedia formats and you have a storm of pressure pushing you toward a certain point of view.

As discussed many times before, the people in the group Salmon Are Sacred regularly use these tactics to push their agenda of anti-salmon farming philosophies. They use live protests which include signs smeared with mud – that they claim is “farmed salmon poo” – as well as grotesque photos of fish necropsy claiming that farms are to blame for all wild salmon ills. They protest grocery stores to try to pressure them not to sell farmed salmon. They have a vitriolic website full of false or misrepresented science and a Facebook group that often uses peer pressure and bullying to make sure that all contributors to the group follow the same philosophies. Now they have added documentary film making to the list.

Alexandra Morton and Twyla Roscovich have produced and filmed “Salmon Confidential.” This is the description of the documentary from their website:

“Salmon Confidential is a new film on the government cover up of what is killing BC’s wild salmon.”

This film is biased from start to finish. It does not try to show both sides of the issue and let the viewer make up their own mind about salmon farming in B.C. Instead it is an hour and nine minutes worth of propaganda whose sole purpose is to call people to action against an industry. This is a call to bully government into ignoring any science except that posed by this group.

Salmon Confidential Exposed (SCE) is a website dedicated to showing, through science and research, the inherent problems with the documentary.  Here is the description of the blog from the website:

“The film is riddled with errors, false claims and incorrect assumptions which must be corrected. This blog will provide facts and realities which bust Morton’s myths about salmon farming in her latest film.”

Sadly people are so emotionally attached to their belief systems about salmon farming that they are not willing to look at the science. They literally are willing to plug their ears and sing “la la la” when anyone presents an opposing view to their own.

The blog Salmon Farm Science has pulled an interesting response from the Salmon Confidential Exposed site.

A response to the Salmon Confidential Exposed blog.

Christine actually says “I don’t need to think… I just know.” If only life were that simple!

In order to create this peer pressure filled documentary much editing was required. Many people were misquoted or taken out of context. One interviewee was straight out lied to about who was interviewing him and why. The blog Farm Fresh Salmon has an excellent article laying out how Roscovich creates such one sided documentaries. Here is a quote from that blog:

“Now there is word that the only interview included in the film that doesn’t align with the filmmakers’ pre-conceived perspectives was undertaken using a fake name and credentials. Word has come to PAA that Dr. Gary Marty was quite taken aback when he attended a viewing of Salmon Confidential to see that “Jean from Shaw TV” who had interviewed him some time ago, was in fact Ms. Roscovich. The interview footage appears in the film.

Sorry – do we need to say that again? Twyla, who made Salmon Confidential, identified herself as Jean from Shaw TV when she did the interview with Dr. Marty which appears in the film.”

Dr. Gary Marty works for the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture as a fish pathologist. He has been interview many times by multiple media sources and is willing to share his point of view about the aquaculture industry in B.C. It seems that Roscovich didn’t even try to get a straight interview with Marty. What is gained by lying about your identity under the guise of journalism except to remove some of your credibility? This is unethical journalism.

To gain interviews Twyla Roscovich is willing to pay sources (another point raised in the Farm Fresh Salmon blog) and to lie about her own identity by presenting herself as a reporter for Shaw TV.

If Roscovich is not an ethical source of information how about Alexandra Morton? Is she any more reliable? Not according to Farm Fresh Salmon:

“A person once published in the “prestigious Journal of Science” now resorts to petty acts of vandalizing work places, defacing farmed salmon in grocery stores, intimidating store managers to remove farmed salmon, threatening politicians with public protests, initiating boycotts of product and misrepresenting lab reports – all in an attempt to fulfill her dream of eradicating salmon aquaculture in her adopted home of Canada.”

If the two creators of this documentary use questionable ethics to get their point across is this documentary a credible form of journalism? You decide.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2013 in Opinion

 

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Take the blinders off

Alexandra Morton has proven again that she has her blinders on.

Blinders… because she shies at any ideas that do not match her own.

Morton is absolutely against salmon farms and has no time or interest in looking at any other avenues for enhancing wild salmon populations.

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Morton wields a great deal of power over the salmon are sacred group. Her influence and opinion is so powerful that even when her supporters do mention other man-made environmental problems they feel that they have to add fish farms to the list so they can still be in the “in” group.

blinders3

Overfishing, logging, mining, oil; all of these problems are man-made. West coasters who lived here in the 1950s-1970s saw the disastrous effects of poorly regulated logging, which destroyed salmon habitat up and down the coast, having long-term impacts on stocks. Getting rid of salmon farms would not do anything to improve or stop any of the effects from these much  larger and higher impact industries.

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Even when talking about a river that has no fish farms near it but has a myriad of other man-made issues they are still trying to blame salmon farms. If all this salmon love were put toward cleaning up the Fraser River imagine how happy the salmon would be. A nice clean place to spawn would do wonders for all species of salmon.

To borrow from Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth affecting salmon, Alexandra, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Opinion

 

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Liar Liar

The poem “liar liar pants on fire, hanging on a telephone wire” is one I remember from elementary school. It was a fun, albeit childish way to show that you didn’t believe what your friend was telling you.

I have learned some other versions since then. My favorite is “…your nose is longer than a telephone wire.” These lyrics come from a one hit wonder song by The Castaways.

The origins of the poem are lost in obscurity but one possible starting point is the poem “The Liar” by William Blake, written in 1810. The first line reads as follows:

“Deceiver, dissembler Your trousers are alight From what pole or gallows Shall they dangle in the night?”

Your trousers are alight!

As fascinating as I find etymology I am disappointed to see adults using this poem as a way to dismiss and belittle other people.

Mary Ellen Walling, The Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association is a common target for the people on the Salmon Are Sacred Facebook group. She is an easy target for this group because she is willing to take a positive stand for salmon farming in BC. Their response is to resort to elementary school tactics in order to show their opposition to what she has said.

pants on fire

pants on fire1

Canada is a free country; everyone has a right to state their opinion, even if it’s childish. It would be refreshing, however, to see differences of opinion expressed in a more mature and intelligent way.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2013 in Opinion

 

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Bullying – Not just for teenagers.

The topic of bullying has been the focus of B.C. news reports recently since a 15 year old girl tragically decided to take her life as a means to end the torment of bullying.

Because the victim of the bullying was a 15 year old the focus on how to deal with bullying and how to help victims has focused on teenagers and pre-teens. This is a topic that deserves a great deal of attention. Bullying has been around for as long as people have been around. People physically or verbally harm others to raise their own status with others.

However, the permanence and pervasiveness of the internet have radically changed bullying and its effects. A child can no longer change schools with the hope of starting fresh when the lies that have been told about them are out there for the whole world to see on websites that are hard if not impossible to delete.

Bullying is not a problem that affects only teenagers; it doesn’t necessarily end when you leave high school. There are workplace bullies that will make your working environment very unpleasant and there are (for lack of a better word) activist bullies. I would define activist bullies as those people or groups who use defamatory comments to state their negative viewpoints about an industry or business.

Defamation—also called calumny, vilification, traducement, slander (for transitory statements), and libel (for written, broadcast, or otherwise published words)—is the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation a negative or inferior image. This can be also any disparaging statement made by one person about another, which is communicated or published, whether true or false, depending on legal state.

Such is the case with the recent defamation case between a local B.C. fish farming company and a vocal protester. The case is titled: Mainstream Canada v. Staniford, 2012 BCSC 1433. The trial was held in late January and early February of 2012, the judgment was made on September 28, 2012.

Protester Don Staniford created false cigarette covers depicting farmed salmon as causing cancer and killing people, among other statements, and then posted them on his website. The Norwegian flag was used as the backdrop for these messages. Mainstream Canada is owned by Cermaq and the majority share holder of Cermaq is the Norwegian government. Since Staniford was in B.C. at the time of the publication and he was using images from B.C., Mainstream Canada felt that this was a direct attack on them and thus brought this defamation lawsuit to court. The judge agreed that Staniford was targeting Mainstream.

The bullying didn’t end with the cigarette covers. Staniford is a long-time protester of the salmon farming industry and often uses crass, cruel and mocking language when referring to the industry and anyone who would support it.

His reply to the lawsuit and the requests to have the images removed from his website show the contempt he has for the industry.

When Mainstream Canada – a Norwegian-owned outfit – demanded he take his website down, the service provider did so. But Staniford sent back a copy of one of his spoof cigarette packages, “with a picture of a fist with a raised middle finger.”

This contempt was noted by Judge Adair.

The judge summarized her extensive analysis of Mr. Staniford’s statements in the following passage (at para. 198):

… Mr. Staniford does not in fact do anything to conceal the spite, ill-will and contempt he holds for industrial aquaculture and salmon farming in general, and Mainstream … in particular. I think the evidence is overwhelming in this regard. Mr. Staniford’s Internet postings are filled with insulting and demeaning comments and cruel caricatures. He ignores and disdainfully dismisses peer-reviewed science (…) when the conclusions conflict with his own views. The language in his publications – including the mock cigarette packages in particular – is extreme, inflammatory, sensationalized, extravagant and violent. The word “kills” is everywhere.

Staniford used “Fair Comment” as his defense in this case and the judge accepted this defense.

[202]     Although I have concluded that Mr. Staniford’s statements are defamatory of Mainstream, I have concluded that he should succeed on his defence of fair comment.  I have found that he was actuated by express malice towards Mainstream.  However, I have found that he had an honest belief in the statements he made, and injuring Mainstream because of spite or animosity was not his dominant purpose in publishing the words in issue.

A blog posting on the Positive Aquaculture Awareness website sums it up well:

The decision that wrong, derogatory statements are allowed to stand because someone’s disillusion is strong enough is terribly disappointing for salmon farmers.

Geoff Plant, B.C.’s former Attorney General, who lists his occupation as Lawyer, recovering politician and learner, has written an interesting blog post (called The Plant Rant) about this case. He notes that:

Reflect again on Mr. Staniford’s statements, and ask yourself what it would be like to be an employee of Mainstream and its parent company, carrying on lawful businesses, companies which the trial judge said, “model the behavior of a responsible corporate citizen”.  Mr. Staniford launches a highly public campaign. Its message, shouted from the rooftops, is that the product you make kills people.  You are personally demeaned and ridiculed for appearing as a witness in court on behalf of your employer.   What you learn is this: in our democracy, free speech is more valued than decency, fairness, self-respect, self-restraint, intellectual integrity, or responsibility.  And when it comes to public debate, the law rewards the most outrageous and hurtful among us.  It’s a harsh lesson, I think.

Plant also makes the point that, with rulings such as this one, there seems to be little the law can do to protect people from bullies.

A recent decision of the BC Supreme Court provides a powerful illustration of how vulnerable we are to public criticism, no matter how vicious, and how little there is that the law will do to stop it.

This is a blatant case of bullying and Mainstream Canada has chosen to stand up to the bully and has filed an appeal to the ruling.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2012 in News, Opinion

 

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Not a threat

Gary Marty is one of Alexandra Morton’s favorite punching bags. Marty recently wrote a letter to the Nanaimo Daily News responding to Morton’s inaccurate statements regarding viruses in salmon. Marty does an excellent job explaining the errors in Morton’s story as well as in her logic and science.

Marty makes two very important points that the press would do well to remember:

1. False positive test results are not a threat to either wild or farmed salmon.

2. Tests that do not work properly are not a threat to wild or farmed salmon.

Science is not a one-shot deal. Results need to be studied and tests need to be run multiple times. That is the core of the scientific method. Morton’s credibility as a scientist is continually lessened every time she publishes an incorrect finding. Sadly the press finds that she is an easy sound bite and they continue to give her space.

I will let Marty have the last word:

“Alexandra Morton is a great story teller, but much of what she says is just that: a story.”

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2012 in Opinion

 

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Transfer of Guilt

Patrick Moore, an original founder of Greenpeace, quit the organization after 15 years. Recently he wrote the book Confessions of a Greenpeace Drop Out. He was recently quoted as saying:

“What the (activist) environmentalists have done is they’ve gotten all the city people thinking all the people out there in the environment growing all the food, cutting the trees, digging the minerals and damming the rivers are the enemy. When in actuality it is them (city people) who are demanding all that stuff be done to satisfy their needs for infrastructure, energy, food and materials in urban centers. And yet they are able to transfer whatever guilt they should be feeling onto those hard working people who are outdoors in the rain and snow and sun doing all the work to produce all the stuff the people in their condominiums and corner offices are enjoying.”

Environmentalist groups prey upon people’s sense of guilt about our use of the environment, but they don’t consider the long-term consequences of guilt-based campaigning.

“Only eat wild salmon” is a very easy philosophy to spout. The problem lies at the end of that line of thinking. If everyone who currently enjoys farmed salmon were to switch and only eat wild salmon, we would eat our wild salmon to extinction in a few years.

Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline is hotly debated and recent news of a report about a spill in the U.S. has brought it to the forefront in the last few days. Some will use this as an “I told you so” moment and point to the evils of “tar” sands and a need to stop all oil development in this country.

But even Thomas Mulcair, leader of the federal NDP party, makes the point in an interview on CBC radio that the NDP are against the B.C. pipeline but would be open to a pipeline heading east, or at least processing the oil in Canada before shipping it internationally. Stopping the production of oil is not practical, but perhaps there are ways to do it better.

The idea that all organically-grown food is better than conventionally grown seems reasonable (after all people have been trying to convince us of this for years), but there is little scientific evidence to support it. There is evidence that some food grows better under organic standards (such as soybeans) but when it comes to harvest yield and our ability to “feed the world” conventional methods are more efficient. If it takes more land to grow the same amount of food using organic standards. That means there will be less land for products that could reduce our use of oil, such as bio-diesel and plant-based plastics.

These are only a few examples of environmental activist positions that do not hold up in the real world. Holding a picket sign and shouting slogans is easy, finding practical solutions to the issues you are concerned about is much harder.

Putting the blame for environmental problems on the backs of those working hard to provide you with the essentials that you can’t produce for yourself is going to harm you in the long run.

As the old saying goes, don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2012 in Opinion

 

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