Mainstream Canada wins defamation appeal against anti-fish farm campaigner Published: 31 July, 2013
The BC Court of Appeal has ruled against anti-salmon farming activist Don Staniford in favour of Mainstream Canada.
The Court of Appeal also granted Mainstream Canada special costs based on the activist’s behaviour during the trial.
“The appropriate way to punish Mr Staniford for his reprehensible conduct in the litigation is to award Mainstream special costs against him,” wrote Justice David Tysoe in the judgment handed down last week.
The company originally took the activist to court because his attack did not just affect Mainstream Canada.
“It affected our employees, their families, our suppliers and our partners. A company is not just its registration number. The soul of a company is its employees, and we need to stand up for them and defend them against malicious and defamatory attacks and against cyberbullying,” said Laurie Jensen, Mainstream Canada’s communications and corporate sustainability manager. “We are pleased that the court recognises that especially in the age of the Internet, public comments need to be backed up by facts.”
Justice Tysoe found that the activist was not eligible for protection under a fair comment defence because he failed to adequately present facts to back up his claims.
“All of the readers of the publications were not in a position to make up their own minds about the merits of what Mr Staniford said in the publications. Accordingly, one of the elements of the defence of fair comment was not satisfied, and the defence was not available to Mr Staniford. The judge erred in dismissing Mainstream’s defamation claim,” wrote Justice Tysoe. “I would allow the appeal and set aside the judge’s order dismissing Mainstream’s claim and her costs order. I would grant the injunction requested in Mainstream’s amended notice of civil claim, and I would award Mainstream general damages in the amount of $25,000 and punitive damages in the amount of $50,000. I would award Mainstream special costs of the action and party and party costs of this appeal.”
The judgment upheld Mainstream Canada’s arguments made during the company’s original court case against the activist. The trial, which ran from January 16 to February 10 2012, was responding to a prolonged, malicious, and unfounded attack on Mainstream Canada and its employees. In the original trial, the judge concluded that Mainstream was a responsible corporate citizen.
“They are conscious of the need to operate the business in a manner consistent with producing a product that is safe to consume and contributes to a healthy and nutritious diet,” the trial judge wrote in her judgment.
The original trial judge also found that the activist’s comments were defamatory and were motivated by express malice toward Mainstream. She described the language in his publications as “extreme, inflammatory, sensationalized, extravagant and violent”.
Mainstream said the judgment showed that while public debate should be encouraged, it should be based on fact, and critics should be held accountable for their public commentary.