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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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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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Mean girls (and boys)

Mean girls

Anti-salmon farming fanatics’ bullying and shaming tactics are like a trip back to middle school.

While North American democracy has its flaws it does have one enduring quality: freedom of expression/speech. The U.S.A. and Canada have different ways of expressing rights and freedoms but the intention is the same in each case.

USA: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Canada: Section 2(b) of the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms] states that “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: … freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”

Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of a functioning democracy. Freedom of expression promotes certain societal values, as noted by Professor Emerson in 1963: “Maintenance of a system of free expression is necessary (1) as assuring individual self-fulfillment, (2) as a means of attaining the truth, (3) as a method of securing participation by the members of the society in social, including political, decision-making, and (4) as maintaining the balance between stability and change in society.”

Protesting plays an important part in our society. The ability to express your opinion with the hope of being heard by other parties and causing change is the motivation behind acts of protest. The problem arises when expressing your opinion is done in a way that breaks the law (causing possible harm to people or property) or when bullying is used to ostracize a person, government party, religion, company or industry.

There are many groups who have shown their disapproval of salmon farming in B.C. (and other industries such as logging and mining) with a very loud voice to a very big audience (i.e. David Suzuki Foundation, Green Peace etc.). They often share false or twisted facts and sometimes used questionable means of expression but they at least have some accountability for their actions.

The same cannot be said for the group Salmon are Sacred (SAS). While technically leaderless, the organization of the group is handled by 2 people (as listed on their website): Alexandra Morton and Anissa Reed. This organization has a very active public Facebook page (it can be read by anyone but you have to be accepted in order to comment) and Morton has her own blog that SAS shares openly. By claiming to be “leaderless” SAS does not have to be accountable for the actions of its members. Each person acts “independently” and others can choose to join those actions or not.  But the truth is that Reed and Morton are the organizers, they are the “popular” girls in the clique that the other kids aspire to and want to impress. As with many popular girls in middle and high school, their popularity is amplified by bullying tactics.

“According to research done by Lagerspetz, Bjorqvist and Peltonen at the University of Miami, when girls bully they use things like alienation, ostracism, deliberate and calculated random exclusions, and spreading of rumors to harass their peers.[1]

There is no question that SAS and its close associates ostracize salmon farmers. Their only goal is to shut down salmon farming all together. Some claim that they want to see closed containment aquaculture but many don’t want to see any form of salmon aquaculture at all.

The bullying is not just against salmon farmers around the world but also toward this group’s “peers.” Who are their peers? People who are concerned about the environment and would like to feel they are part of a group who is actively engaged in something. How are they bullied? In subtle ways.

“Girls get other kids to gang up on one or more peers as a way of exerting control. Sometimes they incite other children to act out aggressively and sit back to watch the show… They form alliances with other social groups in an effort to jockey for popularity and positions of power among peers. All too often the bullying tactics used by girls are brushed off as cruel but normal social interactions.

While it is normal for girls and boys to form social groups and close bonds with certain people at the exclusion of others it becomes bullying when those groups make power plays over other groups or individuals. Having friends is one thing; having friends who work to make others feel that they are not good enough to be included is another. Playing the popularity game in a way that causes fear or inadequacy in others is a form of bullying and it is a common tactic used by girls.”[1]

One recent example of the emotional manipulation, rumor milling and fact falsifying is a petition posted by Morton on change.org.

“Recently, I received lab results showing that large supermarket chains are selling farmed salmon that are testing positive for salmon flu virus and the salmon heart virus. I am horrified to think that my friends are feeding their children infected fish.”

This is the misinformation Morton and her friends try to use to manipulate people into feeling that her opinions are right and everyone who disagrees with her is wrong (even if they have scientific data to back them up.) If you want to be her friend, you must believe what she says and do what she says and in this case don’t feed your children “infected fish.”

But someone with a science degree should know that every fish, every animal, every plant, the air you breath and the water you drink all contain viruses. Farmed salmon are no exception, and neither are wild salmon. As wild salmon grow in fresh and salt water they pass viruses and diseases back and forth with other wild fish, freshly hatched and returning to spawn. When they head out into salt water, they are carrying viruses when they pass salmon farms, possibly infecting the farmed fish (which are entered into the ocean virus-free). And what’s even more of a factor, the ocean is naturally full of viruses everywhere. Viruses are the most abundant form of life on this planet, including in the ocean. That means that the wild fish you just bought for dinner is full of viruses!

The emotional manipulation of “I am horrified to think that my friends are feeding their children infected fish” is just plain ridiculous. The language in these scare tactics is outrageous:

 “I am trying to protect our children from industrial viruses in our food that are being kept secret… Although we are told these viruses cannot reproduce in human body temperatures, we also know that flu viruses mutate in feedlots and have a history of becoming dangerous, so we want to know when we are taking that risk…. No one knows what these powerful Atlantic salmon viruses will do to the wild salmon of the Pacific; they are unpredictable. In Chile, ISA virus became more virulent and spread faster than was known possible.”

She is implying that if you feed your kids farmed Atlantic salmon you are a bad parent because of what you are exposing them to. This is a logical fallacy much like the loaded question “when did you stop beating your wife” intended to bully someone into accepting your point of view.

The CFIA tests food all across Canada. They have the final word on farmed animal health, yet Morton suggests they are liars. If you are not willing to accept when the CFIA says farmed salmon is safe to eat than you can’t believe anything the agency says about the safety of the food you buy.  If you are willing to trust that the burgers you grill on the BBQ this summer are safe for your family then you can trust that the salmon you just bought is also safe for your family.

Morton also uses the term “powerful Atlantic salmon viruses” but doesn’t explain what she means. Powerful how? She uses emotion to create fear and doubt and imply that there is some kind of conspiracy or cover-up and only she has the truth. It is a power play to get everyone to listen to her and follow her.

“Girls bully by using emotional violence. They do things that make others feel alienated and alone. Some of the tactics used by girls who bully include:

  • anonymous prank phone calls or harassing emails from dummy accounts

[or petitions full of false information, letters to government representatives, also with false information…]

  • playing jokes or tricks designed to embarrass and humiliate
  • deliberate exclusion of other kids for no real reason
  • whispering in front of other kids with the intent to make them feel left out

[writing blogs attacking people but not publishing comments that disagree with your point of view]

Yelling at someone to go home before they have had a chance to share their point of view does not encourage open communication.

  • name calling, rumor spreading and other malicious verbal interactions

[Facebook, protest signs, blogs]

  • being friends one week and then turning against a peer the next week with no incident or reason for the alienation

[claiming to want to help the industry change but being unwilling to have an open dialog that doesn’t include shutting the industry down]

  • encouraging other kids to ignore or pick on a specific child

Encouraging others to post the petition full of false and inflammatory information on every Facebook page imaginable…

  • inciting others to act out violently or aggressively” [1]

Carrying signs with anti-Norwegian slogans and blocking a bus full of Norwegians who are trying to attend a meeting on salmon farming in B.C. – not an act of peaceful protest.

“Girls will choose a victim and identify what is most important to that child. They will then focus on ways to damage, sabotage, or disrupt what is important to the child. The goal of this activity is to gain power over the victim through isolation, humiliation, and control of her interactions with others.” [2]

This sounds really familiar… replace child with industry and it sounds like behaviour seen recently. Entering bio-security areas to take video and protest a farm with an identified virus, interfering with staff who are trying to off-load fish under quarantine situations, filling the media and internet with more fallacies and fear, all in an attempt to have fish farms shut down forever.

“This is often accomplished by encouraging other children not to be friends with the child, spreading rumors, cyber-bullying, and bullying by text. Some girls will even encourage other children to join in with the bullying. Girl bullies can wield this type of power because they can be quite charming and popular on the surface. Others are naturally attracted to that charisma and want to be friends. The girl bullies then manipulate people in those relationships. The bully’s accomplices are sometimes unaware of what they are being drawn into until they are socially entrapped. They carry out the bully’s instructions and mimic her behaviors because they do not want to become victims themselves.” [2]

“I am so sorry, please don’t hate me, really I am on your team, it was just a mistake, I would never speak out against you…” Feeling the peer pressure?

Sadly there are many people who have bought into SAS and Morton’s emotional and fear-mongering appeals and will blindly talk about sea-lice and disease transfer as major problems and examples of why fish farms should be removed from B.C. waters — yet never bother to research any information contrary to what Morton says. If they tried to think for themselves, they would find out that sea lice is naturally occurring in wild salmon and that there is no evidence of higher mortalities of salmon related to sea lice. They would also learn about how diseases are transferred and that there is no evidence of “amplification” or “mutation” of diseases from fish farms threatening wild fish (who naturally carry viruses and diseases and migrate and spawn in the millions in river systems while fingerling salmon are still growing).

These are not the words of a peaceful protester convincing me with logical arguments that her opinion is worth listening to.

Here are some more tactics used by girl bullies that sound similar to actions taken over the years by Morton and other supporters of Salmon Are Sacred.

  • Becoming friends with the intended victim to gain access to information about them that can later be used to hurt them.
  • Encouraging others to not be friends with the victim.
  • Encouraging others to bully the victim by calling her names or taking part in elaborate schemes that will result in the child being publicly humiliated or punished.
  • Making others ignore the child.
  • Spreading rumors.
  • Breaking up any friendships the child victim attempts to form.
  • Gossiping about the child or the child’s friends or family. [2]

On the Salmon are Sacred website they have posted a code of conduct for their supporters. These are great things to strive for and if they really did follow this code online and in the real world this blog would not be necessary.

Peaceful Direct Action Code

  1. Our attitude is one of openness, friendliness and respect towards all beings we encounter.
  2. We will use no violence, verbal or physical, toward any being.
  3. We will not damage any property and will discourage others from doing so.
  4. We will strive for an atmosphere of calm and dignity.
  5. We will carry no weapons.
  6. We will not bring or use alcohol or drugs.

Looking at the comments on their Facebook page in the last few days shows that they do not apply or enforce either #1 or #4.

Around the same time Morton posted her petition, Annie Paddle posted a petition against Morton’s conduct with regards to herfalse and misleading statements about the industry” and her violations of bio security that were put in place to deal with the IHN virus.

SAS followers are claiming this petition is a personal attack against Morton and (ironically) an act of bullying. The problem with their assertions are that Morton has isolated herself as an activist willing to go to extremes to get public attention and get her point across. She is not being picked on because she is an easy target but she is being focused on because she goes to great lengths to be the most well known anti-fish farm activist in B.C. and while claiming to want the best for the wild salmon she more interested in pointing blame.

For people who say they want free speech they are sure not being generous to opposing points of view.

Which petition has the false information?

Here is another shining example of how some people think freedom of speech is only for people whose opinions you agree with:

Criminals? What law is being broken? Just because people disagree with you doesn’t make them criminals.

Salmon Are Sacred do not shy away from isolating people from the crowd and calling them names, poking fun at clothing, gloating like Grade 9s over spelling mistakes, or plainly and simply saying that those peoples’ opinions do not have any merit. Two people who have been singled out this time are Laurie Jansen and Hereditary clan Chief Harold Sewid. I have screen captures of some of the comments made on the SAS Facebook page but they are so malicious that I don’t want to share them here. It reads like a group of teenage girls huddled around talking about another girl. Kind of like this:

“Baby Got Back”

[Intro]
Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt.
It is so big. [scoff] She looks like,
one of those rap guys’ girlfriends.
But, you know, who understands those rap guys? *scoff*
They only talk to her, because,
she looks like a total prostitute, ‘kay?
I mean, her butt, is just so big.
I can’t believe it’s just so round, it’s like,
out there, I mean – gross. Look!
She’s just so … black!

These types of comments are not reserved for Facebook either. Paddle’s petition itself has had many nasty comments by people who agreed to the petition solely so that they could comment against it.

It is clear that Salmon are Sacred is a group of hypocrites. They are against salmon farms because they believe they harm the wild fish but they are willing to violate bio security measures, risking spreading virus to the wild fish they claim must be protected from any and all risks, in order to get their story. They claim an attitude of openness, friendliness and respect towards all beings they encounter but shriek at and abuse anyone who disagrees with them. They say they want free speech but when the pro-fish farming people speak up they are told to shut up and go home. These fanatics need to see that their actions are not acts of peaceful protest but are open and aggressive acts of bullying.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Opinion

 

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