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

Don Staniford says he's never had a fist fight -- not even during his most ferocious action as a rugby player in high school or as a soccer player at university in the United Kingdom.

Change the subject to B.C.'s salmon farming industry, though, and the British-born activist with long, curly hair is more than willing to take on the world's largest salmon-farming companies in the ring of public opinion.

His outspoken criticism has earned him an appearance at the Supreme Court of B.C. on Jan. 16 where he must defend himself against allegations from Mainstream Canada, the province's second largest salmon farming company, that he defamed the organization.

The case could cost him $125,000 if he loses.

The defamation case is the second Staniford has faced in the province since 2005 and the third major legal fight of his 18-year international campaigning career.

"It's definitely a stressful situation,'' said Staniford, who is a native of Merseyside, England, near Liverpool.

"It's obviously gearing up for a fight. It's not a physical fight but it's a mental fight.''

According to court documents, the case focuses on anti-salmon farming campaigns Staniford initiated on or about Jan. 31, 2011.

In those documents, Mainstream Canada's lawyer David Wotherspoon alleges Staniford disseminated and published defamatory and false statements about the company under three titles: "The Salmon Farming Kills Campaign'', the "Silent Spring of the Sea,'' and "Smoke on the Water, Cancer on the Coast.''

The company's amended notice of civil claim includes published graphics that look like cigarette packages and include warnings like "Salmon Farming Kills Like Smoking.''

The company argues Staniford also wants to frustrate the World Wildlife Fund's pending certification scheme for farmed salmon.

The documents state that when the company's lawyers demanded Staniford cease and desist and retract his comments publicly, Staniford responded one minute past the deadline and with another cigarette-like-package graphic that read "Norwegian Owned'' and included an image of a raised middle finger and the words "Salmon Farming.''

Mainstream Canada produces 25,000 tonnes of fish in B.C. every year and is a subsidiary of the Norwegian company Cermaq.

"These statements that Staniford has used are styled after those kind of health warnings as though the salmon farming industry and farmed salmon is so dangerous that they require a health warning and is going to make people sick ... That's what this case is about,'' Wotherspoon said in an interview with 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.

Staniford said he won't back down and settle the case, no matter the costs.

He's going up against a formidable opponent.

Mainstream Canada, which is headquartered in Oslo, Norway, also operates in Chile, Canada, Scotland and Vietnam. The Norwegian government is a majority shareholder, said a company official, and its legal counsel is Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, which is, according to its own website, the "third largest Canadian-based law firm.''

At trial, the company plans to call 10 witnesses, including Lise Bergen, it's parent company's director of corporate affairs in Norway, Ruth Salmon, executive director of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, and the executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association.

In contrast, Staniford said he is not currently employed and is being represented by Vancouver-based lawyer David Sutherland, who runs a two-person law firm.

Court documents state Staniford plans to call one expert witness -- John Volpe, an associate professor at the University of Victoria -- and "possibly others.''

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