The B.C. Court of Appeal has placed a muzzle on an anti-salmon-farming “zealot” and ordered the man to pay $75,000 in damages to one of the province’s biggest fish farming operations.
A three-member panel ruled unanimously Monday that Madam Justice Elaine Adair erred when she dismissed Mainstream Canada’s defamation lawsuit against Don Staniford and upheld the campaigner’s defence of fair comment.
In written reasons, Mr. Justice David Tysoe said the defamatory publications did not meet all four elements of a legal test because Staniford didn’t reference the facts upon which he based his comments.
The lower court heard part of Staniford’s 2011 campaign mimicked cigarette packages with warnings like “Salmon Farming Kills Like Smoking.”
“It is my opinion that the facts upon which Mr. Staniford’s defamatory comments were based were not all notorious, contained in the defamatory publications or sufficiently referenced to be contained in other specified documents,” said Tysoe.
“All of the readers of the publications were not in a position to make up their own minds about the merits of what Mr. Staniford said in the publications.”
As a result, Staniford did not satisfy the defence of fair comment and the judge erred in dismissing the company’s defamation claim, said Tysoe.
The court then ordered Staniford to pay $25,000 in general and $50,000 in punitive damages, referring in the latter award to the campaigner’s conduct during the initial 2012 trial.
Tysoe’s ruling noted Staniford relaunched his website and said an injunction would not stop him, accused First Nations of accepting “blood money” from Mainstream Canada and compared the trial to a Kangaroo court. He also made “sexist and puerile” comments online about two female witnesses called by the company.
Tysoe also referred to Adair’s description of Staniford, saying the activist was “akin to a zealot,” “virtually anything that conflicts with his view and vision is wrong, bad, disgraceful and worse,” he “seems incapable of conceding he might be wrong on some things.”
Besides damages and court costs, Tysoe also granted a permanent injunction, requested by the Norwegian-owned company, restraining Staniford from “publishing similar words and images in the future.”
Laurie Jensen, a spokeswoman for Mainstream Canada, which owns 27 farms off the coasts of Vancouver Island, said she was pleased with the ruling, although she doesn’t know how much the case has cost the company.
“It wasn’t about the money,” she said. “It was about stopping these attacks, these vicious and malicious attacks.
“People need, if they’re going to make comments about us, they need to back it up by facts. They need to know what they’re talking about. They can’t just go out there and be cyber bullies or harass our people or make false claims.
“They need to do their homework, and they need to pay attention, and they need to make sure what they’re saying is accurate.”
Jensen said her company produces a healthy and safe product and the company can back up the claim and walk its talk.
Staniford said he plans to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“This is a kick in the teeth,” he said, in a phone interview from Ireland. “This is a kick in the teeth for me personally but also to all activists and campaigners on not just environmental issues but also social-justice issues.”
He said the judgment will have huge ramifications on those reporting on and campaigning against salmon farms and will have a “chilling effect” on the media and public.
Staniford said the case is about a company, owned by the Norwegian government, using Canadian courts to muzzle criticism.
Even though he raised more than $100,000 from supporters, Staniford said he expects the case to cost him more than $500,000.
Mainstream Canada is part of the Mainstream Group, which, according to its website, runs operations in Canada, Chile, Scotland and Norway and produces more than 110,000 tonnes of farmed salmon annually and employs more than 3,400 people.