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Anti salmon farming activist must pay up after Supreme Court dismisses appeal

Anti salmon farming activist Don Staniford is out of options and must pay Cermaq Canada $75,000 in damages after his appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was dismissed without being heard on Feb. 13.

He is also on the hook for Cermaq’s legal costs.

The appeal was dismissed almost exactly two years after B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elaine Adair tossed out Cermaq’s original lawsuit against Staniford on Feb. 10, 2012, stating she was satisfied with Staniford’s fair comment defence.  

While Cermaq—formerly known as Mainstream Canada—said its legal action against Staniford stemmed from prolonged, malicious and unfounded defamatory attacks on the company, the crux of the issue was a media campaign he ran in 2011 likening eating farmed salmon to smoking cigarettes.

He said the campaign was based on a paper published in the Environmental Research Journal in 2005 that linked consumption of farmed salmon to increased cancer risks.

Cermaq filed an appeal and in July 2013 the BC Court of Appeal ruled Adair’s ruling was incorrect because Staniford’s website did not contain a link to any publication connecting farmed salmon to cancer.

Staniford was ordered to pay the company $25,000 in general damages and $50,000 in punitive damages.

The Supreme Court’s dismissal with costs upholds this tab and reaffirms an injunction banning Staniford from making similar remarks against the salmon farming industry in the future.

Cermaq called the decision a vindication of the company’s reputation as a “producer of nutritious salmon,” and responsible corporate citizen.

“We welcome public debate but it should be based on facts, and critics should be held accountable for their public commentary,” said Cermaq Canada’s corporate sustainability manager Laurie Jensen through a media release. “The heart of our company is our employees and we need to stand up for them and defend them against malicious and defamatory attacks and against cyberbullying.”

This is not Staniford’s first dip in hot water as Tofino based salmon farming company Creative Salmon launched a lawsuit against him in 2005 successfully sued him for malicious defamation in 2007. At that time, Staniford was the director of aquaculture research for local conservation group Friends of Clayoquot Sound. Staniford won an appeal of this decision in 2009.

He is wary of the effects this newest ruling may have on his former stomping grounds.

"Such shocking censorship will have a chilling effect on criticism of Cermaq's operations in Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve,” he told the Westerly News.

“The lawsuit victory for this Norwegian Government-owned company sends the signal that Norwegian companies now own the law in Canada—along with 95% plus of the salmon farming industry in BC.”

He suggested Cermaq has now effectively banned 52 anti salmon farming statements including “salmon farming spreads disease,” “salmon farming kills sea lions,” and “Friends Don't Let Friends Eat Farmed Salmon.”

“Anyone living on the West Coast will know full well how Cermaq has spread IHN—and potentially ISA and other European-origin viruses—around Clayoquot Sound as well as killing dozens of sea lions.  The truth is now a foreign country to (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper's Canada,” he said.   â€¨

He hopes the Supreme Court’s decision does not intimidate West Coasters into silence. 

"Local people will hopefully not cravenly kowtow to the legal threats of a Norwegian bully determined to silence legitimate and honest criticism. Whilst Cermaq may have succeeded in silencing myself along with my 'servants' and 'agents' I sincerely hope there are some free-thinking people left in Canada willing to speak the truth to power,” he said. “The truth is our most powerful weapon against corporations intent on killing freedom of speech. I plan to visit Tofino later in this year and hope to see lots of 'Friends Don't Let Friends Eat Farmed Salmon' bumper stickers.”

He is optimistic locals opposed to salmon farming will continue their efforts.

“I pray that First Nations leaders in particular will not take this shocking censorship lying down and will fight back against Canada's corporate agenda with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about this dirty rotten industry,” he said. “Clearly in this case, the truth about infectious diseases in Clayoquot Sound hurts the shareholders in Cermaq. Sadly, in Harper's Canada the financial interests of corporations take precedence over freedom of speech and human rights.”

The Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture Network (GAAIA) website operated by Staniford is back online at

Staniford had temporarily shut down the site in 2013 subject to legal advice.

Cermaq Canada’s communications officer Grant Warkentin declined to comment on the Supreme Court’s decision.

“We’re not saying anymore than what we said in the release,” he told the Westerly News. “We feel that covers everything we needed to say.”

He did speak in general terms about misinformation being spread about the industry.

“There is an awful lot of incorrect information out there about salmon farming; a lot of it is based on operations in other countries or it’s based on information that’s 10 or even 20 years old,” he said. “It’s a problem because on the Internet it’s so easy to get access to incorrect information.”

He said Cermaq is “trying very hard” to provide “as much information as possible,” on its website——regarding the company’s current practices and how these practices have changed in the past two decades

“We have links to all sorts of information from sea lice data to fish health and there’s also a lot of information that’s reported publicly now by DFO and we have a link to that information through our website as well,” Warkentin said.

“When we say we’re committed to sustainable aquaculture we really mean it.”

Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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