A heated battle between an anti-fish farm group and the aquaculture industry is headed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia over attack ads that equate farmed salmon with cancer-causing tobacco.
Mainstream Canada, the second-largest aquaculture company on the West Coast, is seeking damages for "false and defamatory postings" and seeks to have the offending material removed from the websites, Facebook accounts and Twitter feeds of Don Staniford and his organization, the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture.
Mainstream Canada announced the lawsuit in a press release on Thursday, and Mr. Staniford responded by releasing a copy of a letter he sent to Mainstream's parent company in Norway, Cermaq ASA, in which he says he welcomes the chance to debate the issue in court.
"GAAIA takes Cermaq's complaint extremely seriously and very much welcomes the opportunity to expand upon why we honestly and firmly believe that 'Salmon Farming Kills,'" states the letter, repeating one of the anti-fish farm slogans to which Mainstream objects.
Laurie Jensen, Mainstream Canada's communications and corporate sustainability manager, said the company is not concerned the lawsuit might give Mr. Staniford and his campaign more publicity.
"It's not about the media," she said. "It's about the fact that these guys have crossed the line. The comments there are so insane and libellous that we just can't not do anything any more."
Ms. Jensen said the anti-fish farm campaign has drawn complaints from the company's employees, customers, suppliers and from some first nations, which are partners in aquaculture operations.
"They are saying somebody's got to do something about this - and if not us, then who?" she said. "So that's what it's about. We can't let this continue. Enough's enough."
Mr. Staniford said the lawsuit is an attempt by the company to silence its harshest critic.
"This is an example of the Norwegian government trying to shut down free speech," he said, noting that the GAAIA website was taken offline after the Internet service provider was advised of the lawsuit by the company.
Mr. Staniford said he hopes to have a new site up soon, and that he will use it to continue his battle against fish farms and to raise legal defence funds.
Mr. Staniford, who is based in B.C., said he formed GAAIA recently to go after fish farms internationally, and that the organization "has supporters globally."
Mainstream, which produces 25,000 tonnes of farmed fish annually in B.C., states in its claim that Mr. Staniford and GAAIA defamed the company numerous times in a campaign launched in January that ran in three segments, under the titles "Salmon Farming Kills," "Silent Spring of the Sea" and "Smoke on the Water, Cancer on the Coast."
The notice of claim lists more than 30 slogans the company finds defamatory and says the anti-fish farm campaign "employs graphic imagery that links the defamatory words and Mainstream to tobacco manufacturers and cigarettes."
It states that tobacco products are known to be harmful to human health and alleges the campaign clearly implies that Mainstream's products "kill people … make people sick … are unsafe for human consumption … [and that]Mainstream is knowingly marketing a carcinogenic product that causes illness, death and harm."
The GAAIA campaign is aimed at "Norwegian-owned" fish farms in general, but the claim notes that the Norwegian government owns 43.5 per cent of Cermaq ASA, so the link to Mainstream is obvious.