B.C. activist undaunted by fish farm industry defamation lawsuit

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Staniford himself is a seasoned international campaigner not unfamiliar with court action and has said he earned an undergraduate degree in geography in Birmingham, England and a master's degree in environmental science from Lancaster University.

He said he became interested in the aquaculture debate while completing his degrees and then volunteered with the environmental group, Friends of the Earth Scotland. In 1997, he met the well-known B.C. anti-salmon farming activist Alexandra Morton at a conference in Seattle, Wash.

Staniford said he faced his first legal threat in 2001 from a Scottish salmon farming company, but no trial ever took place.

In 2002, he began working for the Salmon Farm Protest Group and won a British Environment and Media Award.

According to an Oct. 24, 2002 press release on the World Wildlife Federation website, Staniford "was a significant influence in persuading the Scottish Parliament to hold a formal inquiry into fish farming, has written a widely praised Friends of the Earth critique of fish farming in Scotland and uncovered proof that fish farm workers were being ordered to use illegal chemicals.''

Staniford came to Canada in 2004 and in 2005 he took a job with the Tofino, B.C. environmental group, Friends of Clayoquot Sound.

In June of that year he issued two news releases that questioned Tofino's Creative Salmon Company Ltd.'s use of malachite green, an antibiotic and suspected carcinogen, on market fish.

Creative Salmon sued Staniford for defamation, and in January 2007, a Supreme Court of B.C. judge ordered him to pay $85,000 in damages in legal fees. But Staniford appealed and won a new trial. Then, the Supreme Court of Canada said it would not hear a subsequent appeal by the company.

At one point during the 2010 Winter Olympics, Staniford said he even tried to deliver a letter to the king of Norway during a hockey match in Vancouver.

When asked what motivated him to become an environmental activist, Staniford said he wasn't sure.

"It wasn't my parents,'' he said. "I don't know where it came from. I think it came from the gut somewhere.''

But he added the matter comes down to his principles.

"I think there's a moral imperative and a duty, once you have that knowledge about salmon farming and its impact, to spread the message,'' he said.

"I think the onus is on researchers to be political, to be active and not just let that information rot on an academic bookshelf but to get that into the media and that really means being a campaigner.''

Staniford said he has received financial support from West Coast Environmental Law, as well as citizens in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

Among his fans is journalist, writer and angler Bruce Sandison, who was an angling correspondent for The Scotsman newspaper for 20 years and worked with Staniford in 2002.

He called Staniford's work ethic "quite extraordinary'' and said the protester helped organize actions at supermarkets in Belfast, Edinburgh and London.

"One of Don's greatest abilities is the determination to ... research things,'' he said in a telephone interview from Scotland. "He seemed to be able to have the ability to put together a massive technical detail and make sense of it. He was very good and very committed.''

But Laurie Jensen, a Mainstream Canada spokeswoman, said company and industry employees have come under personal attack from Staniford who has gone beyond "rational dialogue.''

"He's crossed the line and he's done the same thing with accusing us that our product causes cancer,'' she said.

When asked if she agrees the court battle is a David and Goliath struggle, 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.''

Mary Ellen Walling, executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, said Staniford has made personal attacks on her and those attacks are hard to call "a respectful kind of dialogue.''

"He doesn't seem to be interested in any kind of exchange of information,'' she said, adding that her association isn't funding any of the court action but wants to support people working in the industry.

Staniford remains defiant, standing behind his statements and his objective of shutting down the B.C. industry.

If he loses the court action, he said the company will find collecting the damages "like getting blood out of a stone.''

"I am going to fight until the bitter end and win,'' he added.

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