Don Staniford says he's never had a fist fight – not even during his most ferocious action as a rugby player in high school or as a soccer player at university in Britain.
Change the subject to B.C.’s salmon-farming industry, though, and Mr. Staniford is more than willing to take on the world's largest aquaculture companies in the ring of public opinion.
His outspoken criticism has earned him an appearance at the Supreme Court of British Columbia on Jan. 16, where he must defend himself against allegations from Mainstream Canada, the province's second-largest salmon-farming company, that he defamed the organization.
The case could cost him $125,000 if he loses.
The defamation case is the second Mr. Staniford has faced in the province since 2005 and the third major legal fight of his 18-year international campaigning career.
“It's definitely a stressful situation,” said Mr. Staniford, who is a native of Merseyside, in northwest England.
“It's obviously gearing up for a fight. It's not a physical fight but it's a mental fight.”
According to court documents, the case focuses on anti-salmon farming campaigns Mr. Staniford initiated on or about Jan. 31, 2011.
In those documents, Mainstream Canada's lawyer David Wotherspoon alleges Mr. Staniford disseminated and published defamatory and false statements about the company under three titles: “The Salmon Farming Kills Campaign,” the “Silent Spring of the Sea,” and “Smoke on the Water, Cancer on the Coast.”
The company's amended notice of civil claim includes published graphics that look like cigarette packages and include warnings such as, “Salmon Farming Kills Like Smoking.”
The company argues Mr. Staniford also wants to frustrate the World Wildlife Fund's pending certification scheme for farmed salmon.
The documents state that when the company's lawyers demanded Mr. Staniford cease and desist and retract his comments publicly, Mr. Staniford responded one minute past the deadline and with another cigarette-package graphic that read, “Norwegian Owned,” and included an image of a raised middle finger and the words, “Salmon Farming.”
Mainstream Canada produces 25,000 tonnes of fish in B.C. every year and is a subsidiary of the Norwegian company Cermaq.
“These statements that Mr. Staniford has used are styled after those kind of health warnings as though the salmon-farming industry and farmed salmon is so dangerous that they require a health warning and is going to make people sick. … That's what this case is about,” Mr. Wotherspoon said in an interview.
The company's trial brief says it is seeking $100,000 in general damages, $25,000 in punitive damages and a permanent injunction to stop Mr. Staniford from writing, printing or broadcasting defamatory words against Mainstream.
Mr. Staniford said he won't back down and settle the case, no matter the cost.
Mainstream Canada, which is headquartered in Oslo, also operates in Chile, Scotland and Vietnam. The Norwegian government is a majority shareholder, said a company official, and its legal counsel is Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, which according to its website is the “third largest Canadian-based law firm.”
In contrast, Mr. Staniford said he is not currently employed and is being represented by Vancouver-based lawyer David Sutherland, who runs a two-person law firm.
Court documents state Mr. Staniford plans to call one expert witness – John Volpe, an associate professor at the University of Victoria – and “possibly others.”
Mr. Staniford has said he earned an undergraduate degree in geography in Birmingham, England, and a master's degree in environmental science from Lancaster University.
He said he became interested in the aquaculture debate while completing his degrees and then volunteered with the environmental group Friends of the Earth Scotland.
Mr. Staniford said he faced his first legal threat in 2001 from a Scottish salmon-farming company, but no trial ever took place.
In 2002, he began working for the Salmon Farm Protest Group.
He came to Canada in 2004 and in 2005 took a job with the Tofino environmental group Friends of Clayoquot Sound.
In June of that year he issued two news releases that questioned the use by Tofino's Creative Salmon Company Ltd. of malachite green, an antibiotic and suspected carcinogen, on market fish.
Creative Salmon sued Mr. Staniford for defamation, and in January 2007, a Supreme Court of B.C. judge ordered him to pay $85,000 in damages in legal fees. But Mr. Staniford appealed and won a new trial. The Supreme Court of Canada said it would not hear a subsequent appeal by the company.
He said the matter comes down to his principles. “I think there's a moral imperative and a duty, once you have that knowledge about salmon farming and its impact, to spread the message,” he said.
Laurie Jensen, a Mainstream Canada spokeswoman, said company and industry employees have come under personal attack from Mr. Staniford, who she said has gone beyond “rational dialogue.”
“He's crossed the line and he's done the same thing with accusing us that our product causes cancer,” she said.
Mr. Staniford remains defiant, standing behind his statements and his objective of shutting down the B.C. industry.
“I am going to fight until the bitter end and win,” he said.