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 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 SalmonVancouver, 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 SeriouslyDamages 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.