If money talks, then the geyser of financial support that has sprung in the past few days for salmon activist Don Staniford’s legal defence speaks volumes. Staniford – who has been described by aquaculture trade media as salmon farming’s “public enemy number one” – is being sued by the world’s second largest farmed salmon producer, Oslo-based Cermaq (operating as Mainstream in Canada), for defamation. The trial, expected to run 20 days, begins today at the BC Supreme Court in Vancouver.
The company, whose biggest shareholder is the Norwegian Government, may have been banking on Staniford submitting to its demands out of court due to a lack of funds to pursue the case – but any chance of that happening disappeared over the past weekend when the activist raised over $20,000 in public donations for his legal battle. Staniford has been building his case, giving depositions and collecting evidence over the last several months but only went to the public for funding this past Friday, when he launched a page on the community fundraising site gofundme.com. Since then, as of this printing, over $11,000 have tumbled in – in contributions that range from $10-500 a pop, most of them being in the $30-50 region. The goal of the gofundme.com campaign is to raise $50,000 in total.
On top of those online donations, a Norwegian fishing group, The Wild Salmon Warriors of Norway, announced this morning it was kicking in 60,000 Norwegian Krone ($10,000 CAD) of its own. As the former director of the global Pure Salmon Campaign, Staniford frequently traveled the world of the aquaculture industry, drawing together an international alliance of over 30 groups and coalitions battling the industry in Norway, Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, Chile, the United States and Canada. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked with Staniford on the Pure Salmon campaign – including my film “Farmed Salmon Exposed” and other initiatives over the years).
Staniford has already received $20,000 in legal funding from West Coast Environmental Law – directed toward his lawyer David Sutherland, an expert in defamation law. The injection of up to another $60,000 would be an enormous boon to Stanford’s case, which revolves around a recent campaign of his targeting the open net pen salmon farming industry.
The campaign employs a series of graphical representations resembling a cigarette package – emblazoned with messages similar to surgeon general’s warnings, such as “Salmon Farming Kills” – to highlight problems with the industry. Cermaq’s defence is based on the notion that statements like these, coupled with the cigarette iconography, give the impression that farmed salmon is hazardous to human health. Staniford’s counsel will likely counter that the implication is salmon farms kill things like seals and sea lions (often shot by salmon farmers to prevent predation of their stocks) and wild salmon, through the incubation and transference of sea lice and diseases by farmed to wild fish. Moreover, it will make the case that the analogy to the tobacco industry derives from comparable approaches to denying science that is critical of industry.
According to the Canadian Press, “The company’s trial brief states it’s seeking $100,000 in general damages, $25,000 in punitive damages and a permanent injunction to stop Staniford from writing, printing or broadcasting defamatory words against Mainstream.” (emphasis added) It’s that last piece – the concept of a lifetime ban from speaking out against the company – that has Staniford determined to fight. In a recent Victoria Times-Colonist story on the case, Staniford told reporter Sean Sullivan, “This is about justice for wild salmon and freedom of speech.”
Clearly, this David-and-Goliath battle has captured the public’s attention, as the dollars roll in to support Staniford’s case. But it’s Cermaq that sees itself, ironically, as the David in this battle. According to CP, spokesperson for Cermaq subsidiary Mainstream Canada – the second largest fish farm operator in BC – “[Laurie] Jensen said the company is playing the role of David. ‘I think we’re on the righteous end of things in that we have to defend ourselves,’ she said. ‘If we don’t, we do a disservice to our communities, our partners, our employees.'”
For his part, Staniford appears ready for the duel. Further emboldened by this outpouring of public support, he claims, “I am going to fight until the bitter end and win.”