By Arthur Sevestre
Don Staniford of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture has been ordered by British Columbia’s Appeal Court to pay 75,000CAD to Mainstream Canada, a major Norwegian owned salmon farming company. The reason is that Staniford has published claims on the internet and elsewhere about the safety and sustainability of farmed salmon. The court ruled the facts Staniford relied on weren’t sufficiently referenced on his website. Apparently this now is a crime punishable by a sum most people can never afford.
Gavin Cameron, a lawyer representing Mainstream Canada, explained it this way: “this judgement means you can be forceful in your criticism, you may not be 100 per cent correct, but you do have to point to some facts that back up what you’re saying.”
Begging your pardon Mr. Cameron? Pray, please point out the part of the law -presumably in quite an obscure corner somewhere- which states these rules and which have led the court to this judgement, and where is says that you will be heavily fined if you don’t back up your facts?
Oh.. the law isn’t very clear on that, you say? In fact, there is no law in any book that inevitably guided this court to reaching this particular conclusion? So it was a ruling the court came up with on its own? Do you realise just how slippery this slope is?
Well, in that case there must have been people who decided how ‘facts’ and ‘sufficiently referenced’ are defined here. They must also have decided how many facts have to be provided per claim, and whether or not the provided facts were strong and correct enough according to standards they probably drew up themselves. All this to determine whether or not a fine or time in jail was warranted or not. Who were these people who decided that Staniford’s references were too few and weak enough that he now owes a mighty corporation 75,000CAD?
Might it be that you are more likely to be one of those people, or to being able to influence these people, if you have lots of money and power and can afford an army of lawyers and PR firms? Logic and history alike say that, as a rule, this in indeed the case. What does that say about justice? What does it say about equal chances for those on different sides of an argument? What does it say about freedom? And while we’re at it, could Don Staniford have afforded you as a lawyer, Mr. Cameron, or are you expensive enough to only be available to those with lots of cash backing them?
And so what happened with this ruling is not merely that a mighty corporation, tears in its corporate eyes, told ´the law´ that a nasty man was telling nasty things about them and that ´the law´ took pity and told the nasty man to pay a huge sum of money to the already wealthy corporation and told the nasty man that he would never be allowed to say those nasty things again. What happened is that a precedent has been set. A precedent where a mighty corporation manages to silence a voice which is trying (and obviously succeeding, or else it wouldn’t have gone through all these troubles) to expose the harm caused by that corporation.
Do you openly and actively oppose salmon farming? Then this concerns you very directly. You might be the next example the corporate giants in salmon farming want to make, certainly if you get a bit too effective. But by no means is this precedent only something people who actively oppose salmon farming should worry about. This is a cause for deep concern for anyone who could ever imagine trying to stand up against a big corporation of any kind (weapons, oil, nuclear, gmo, pesticides, war, take your pick) which they have reason to believe is causing grave harm to themselves, their loved ones and the community of all life on which they depend. For doing that, you may end up with less than no money and/or in prison. Even those in favour of salmon farming should realise that and oppose this ruling rather than cheer.
We can only assume that money and power play a big role in this. It almost always does. Corporations rule the day, and they rule government. There is a word for corporate ownership of government, and it is fascism. In this structure, the law can be bought, and when that happens, the law is no longer just (assuming it ever was). And when injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.