Tomorrow, a judge in a BC court will be asked to make an instantaneous decision on day 20 of a 20-day trial whether to grant an injunction against Don Staniford speaking about the fish farm industry.
Standing in a hurricane we cannot see the pattern - that the storm tearing up the world is circular, that it reaches into the global stratosphere. Similarly, the proceedings in courtroom #52, Vancouver Law Courts would have little significance if you could not see the roles of Norway, China, Premier Christy Clark and shareholders. The defamation hearing Staniford vs. Mainstream is a test – can the corporate world tolerate democracy.
Big tobacco and Norwegian salmon feedlots hired the same strategist - Hill and Knowlton. The Tobacco Industry knew their product was suspect in killing people, and so it took skilled professionals to get people to keep buying cigarettes. Hill and Knowlton are top-flight, known for managing public relations for the Gulf War, the Exxon oil spill in Alaska, the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster and the massacre at Tiananmen Square. The salmon farmers have spent millions advertising just in the last two years.
But truth is more powerful.
Staniford used cigarette pack imagery (http://salmonfarmingkills.com) to make the point that farm salmon contain cancer-causing chemicals, that they are spreading like a cancer choking off wild salmon migration routes and otherwise harming oceans worldwide. Staniford never named Mainstream in these graphics, but BC salmon farming is 92% Norwegian owned and Norway is the biggest shareholder in Mainstream’s parent company, Cermaq. So through Mainstream, Norway is attempting to protect its industry, calling for an immediate gag order on Staniford and $1 million in damages.
Why such a big response to a guy with big mouth and no money?
Under the watchful eye of Justice Adair we saw evidence that the salmon farming industry knew cancer-causing chemicals are in their product even as they targeted pregnant women to eat more farm salmon:
In 2011, a multi-million dollar ad campaign put fish farm propaganda in our mailboxes saying;
“Farmed salmon is natural, nutritious and free of contaminants”
They know there are contaminants in farm salmon, but they paid huge bucks to tell British Columbians there are none.
While the salmon farming industry has the resources to hire Hill and Knowlton, Staniford’s tools are biting satire, superheroes, three websites, a Captain Condom suit and edgy, British humor. He knows people won’t read dry exposés on the industry. So he pushed the limits and Norway is pushing back hard. Mr. Wotherspoon, commercial litigation lawyer for Fasken Martineau, with 9 offices around the world, is asking Justice Adair for an immediate gag order on Mr. Staniford to shut him up for the few remaining weeks he is in British Columbia, before he is deported.
Norwegians should be concerned about this. In 2010, the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Chinese free speech dissident, Lui Xiaobo. When Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann accepted the award on Xiaobo’s behalf she said;
“To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity, and suppress truth.”
China took offence and imposed new rules concerning import of Norwegian farm salmon causing a 68% decline in shipments of Norwegian farm salmon to China. Massive stores of farm salmon rotted in warehouses.
While they are vulnerable to the trade winds they create, society’s rapacious corporate giants can save themselves from the spin of the vortex merely by leaning on another leg in another country. What Norway’s salmon feedlot operators lost in Norway, they gained in BC. BC farm salmon export to China skyrocketed from $249,000 in 2010 to more than $3.8 million in 2011 (Vancouver Sun, Feb 2012).
Now, however, free speech is threatening the profitable BC / China farm salmon connection. Staniford keeps saying salmon farming spreads disease. Indeed the ISA virus, the most lethal virus known to salmon and a form of influenza spread from Norway to Chile in 2007 causing 2 $billion dollars of damage. When my colleagues and I reported European strain ISA virus positive tests here in BC, what did the provincial Minister of Agriculture, Don McRae do? He made a statement that Premier Christy Clark would personally tell China we do not have ISA virus in BC. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency testified at the Cohen Inquiry in December that if ISA virus is in BC, trade in farm salmon could cease.
Recent industry trade paper headlines make it clear the farm salmon market is collapsing, because there is too much uneaten farm salmon on the market driving prices down below cost. Two weeks ago the US lifted a 20-year 24% duty on Norwegian farm salmon. This will allow Norwegian companied to sell more farm salmon to the U.S. and might save the motherships, but it puts their BC companies at greater risk. Farm salmon companies in BC report firing people and downsizing, they cannot survive without the Chinese market.
And so gale force winds spawned on the other side of the planet when Norway awarded one man for free speech have slammed into a small courtroom in Vancouver where Norway seeks to take free speech away from another man. The structure of the courts and democracy are creaking, rivets popping, paint peeling.
Norway I want to say to you - ISA virus is in BC, cancer-causing chemicals are in your fish, you do use BC as a dump as your companies never shovel their manure and wild fish are being killed in your pens. You can silence Staniford, but at what cost? You won’t hide these truths, because they are lying around in evidence everywhere. Corporations are like addicts they can’t stop themselves. They are blind to everything, but the next quarter. What does it mean when you hand out the Nobel Peace prize in one part of the world and then work to erode democracy where it has become inconvenient to business?
We all have to ask ourselves - what kind of world we want to exist in?