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.
 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.