Skip to main content

The little town of Saint-Félicien, in Quebec's lovely Saguenay region, is under siege. The softwood lumber wars have broken out again, and that's bad news. … Then there's Greenpeace.

"Greenpeace wants our total death!" mayor Gilles Potvin complained back in 2013. "If we listen to them, we can't cut wood any more."

Greenpeace has been waging a relentless campaign against Resolute Forest Products, the largest forest company in the region and in Canada. (It is the successor company to Abitibi and Bowater.)

Related: Alberta regulator to review Greenpeace's Kinder Morgan IPO challenge

Greenpeace has branded Resolute as a "forest destroyer" that is risking a "caribou herd death spiral" and harming the region's First Nations. It has vigorously lobbied Resolute's customers – including the world's biggest book publishers – to boycott its paper and print products.

It claims it only wants reform.

But it seems its more likely real aim is to destroy the company's reputation and its business.

When resource companies are attacked by environmental NGOs, their tendency is to go on the defensive and speak softly.

Resolute is an exception.

It's fighting back. In part, it's personal. Richard Garneau, the company's CEO, grew up in the Saguenay, and his family has lived there for generations. "For me, confronting this barrage of misinformation has been more than just about business ethics," he writes on the corporate website. "I harvested trees by hand to pay my way through school."

In his view, Greenpeace "is marauding not just our company but a way of life, one built on nurturing healthy forests that are the lifeblood of the people who live there."

Last year Resolute launched a racketeering lawsuit in the United States, alleging that Greenpeace and its allies had engaged in defamatory and fraudulent behaviour in order to enrich themselves from donations. The company accused it of faking photos, and fabricating evidence of Resolute's misdeeds.

Greenpeace has now admitted that it engaged in "rhetorical hyperbole." It said in a court motion that its words about forest destruction "can be describing figurative, rather than literal destruction."

It also admitted that its claims "do not hew to strict literalisms or scientific precision" and are "non-verifiable statements of subjective opinion." It is not, however, apologetic. Greenpeace is using the lawsuit to market itself as a victim – in online notifications they include a visual of a gagged woman and the tagline "Clearcutting free speech." It's calling on the world's biggest book publishers to boycott Resolute's book paper – on moral grounds – and has signed up a bunch of authors in its support. (Margaret Atwood is among them.)

Mr. Garneau has no problem with free speech. It's the dissemination of inaccurate information that he's against. He is imploring the publishers to acquaint themselves with the facts. Here are some: Canada's forest industry is among the most stringently regulated in the world. Resolute's record of sustainability has been widely praised. Thousands of Indigenous people work in the forest industry, and it has collaborative business relationships with many First Nations.

The boreal forest is vast and Resolute harvests only a tiny fraction of it, undertaking extensive reforestation as well.

The region's mayors, union leaders, mill workers, and Indigenous leaders are fed up with Greenpeace. They're angry at being portrayed by outsiders as forest destroyers.

"Greenpeace, in our view, is a group that goes to the extreme, that doesn't seek a balance between conservation and forest management," Jack Picard, a band council member of the Innu Nation of Pessamit in Quebec, says in a video. He adds: "We don't accept anyone else speaking for us. We are fully capable of speaking for ourselves."

Greenpeace's fearmongering gives environmental activism a bad name. Last year more than 100 Nobel laureates signed a letter urging them to drop their campaign against genetically modified foods and golden rice, which increase crop yields and provide crucial nutrients that prevent disease and death. Greenpeace is a menace to the world, and especially to the world's most vulnerable. It is also enormously powerful.

"I used to respect Greenpeace, but they are not aware of the reality of the forest industry," Mr. Potvin told me. "Young people believe them. Students believe them. They spread a lot of falsehoods, and they do a lot of damage."

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says the labour and environment chapters of NAFTA could benefit from renegotiation. The U.S. officially served notice Thursday of its intention to renegotiate the trade agreement.

The Canadian Press