The BC Court of Appeal has ordered well-known anti-fish farm activist Don Staniford to pay $75,000 in damages because the mock cigarette packages he had made criticizing Norwegian-owned fish farm companies lacked footnotes or other appropriate citations. The court also granted a permanent injunction muzzling Staniford’s attacks on the fish farms: Mainstream Canada v. Staniford, 2013 BCCA 341.
According to the court, the plaintiff, Mainstream, owns 27 salmon farm sites on the coasts of Vancouver Island, making it the second largest producer of farmed salmon in British Columbia. It is a division of EWOS Canada Ltd., an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of a Norwegian company. (The other two largest producers of farmed salmon in British Columbia also have ties to Norway.)
Don Staniford has dedicated himself to eradicating salmon farming, e.g. through the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture. He received a Master of Science degree in 1993, with his thesis topic being the environmental impact of shellfish farming. He has been working with environmental organizations over the past 15 years.
Mainstream sought general and punitive damages for allegedly defamatory comments made by the respondent in various publications, as well as a permanent injunction restraining him from publishing similar words and images in the future. The trial judge found the defence of fair comment applied to Staniford’s comments, because a determined reader could have located the facts upon which his comments were based.
According to the Court of Appeal, that was not enough, because some of his publications (such as the mock cigarette ads) did not clearly reference the other documents that contained the facts upon which his comments were based.
The court was clearly displeased with Mr. Staniford’s exaggerations. The packages included words such as “Salmon Farming is Poison”, “Salmon Farming is Toxic”, “Salmon Farming Kills”, “Salmon Farms are Cancer”, and “Salmon Farming Seriously Damages Health”. However, Staniford admitted he did not know whether farmed salmon sold by Mainstream in British Columbia was toxic to humans and was not aware of any research showing that a person had developed cancer as a result of consuming farmed salmon. Instead, Staniford was relying on research that concentrations of organochlorine contaminants were significantly higher in farmed salmon than in wild salmon.
The court therefore granted the fish farm company a permanent injunction, and awarded it general damages of $25,000 and punitive damages of $50,000. Mr. Staniford was further punished by requiring him to pay most of the fish farm company’s legal costs.
This case does not qualify as a SLAPP, because the court found that Mr. Staniford’s comments were actually defamatory.