Multimillion dollar fish farming industry suing activist for defamation

Reporting on the trial of Don Staniford vs Mainstream, by Elena Edwards

Round two for Don Staniford has wrapped up as the slapp suit from Mainstream Canada, aka Cermaq, ended its second week. While the first week started on shaky ground, the footing in this boxing ring for justice solidified as Don’s lawyer, David Sutherland, delved deeper into the deception of Norwegian parent company Cermaq’s offspring. Round III begins with Dr. John Volpe on the stand Monday, January 30th.

Mainstream’s case, like so many other lawsuits launched by big industry, is not so much about seeking justice as it is about trying to protect its economic interests by keeping damaging information from emerging. Don has been exposing just such damaging information for over 14 years, earning him the title of “Public enemy # 1” by the fish farming industry. (One might imagine what the courts would be like if every damaging industry had a “Don Staniford” to contend with.)

Of the 52 allegations made by Don through his “Cigarette ad” campaign, Mainstream has narrowed the focus down to “Salmon farms are cancer,” and “Salmon farming kills like smoking” as the two “stings” they feel to be most damaging.

Week one brought witnesses selected by Mainstream and, not unlike many DFO witnesses at the Cohen Commission, they demonstrated having been coached to avoid telling the “whole truth and nothing but the truth”. Mainstream Area Manager Brock Thomson, Wallace Jones Samuel of Ahousaht Aquaculture Committee, Lise Bergan, spokesperson for Cermaq HQ in Norway, and toxicologist Dr. Michael Gallo all took turns on the stand, each displaying a willful, nay, intentional ignorance of the structure of the fish farming industry and the controversy that surrounds it. It was with disbelief that observers in the courtroom heard Mainstream witnesses refuse to admit controversy regarding fish farming, in spite of evidence proving as much. It makes one wonder just what kind of oath they take when entering into the business of Aquaculture.

The first witness of week two brought Ruth Salmon to testify much along lines, as the others. From forgetting what the EPA is (Environmental Protection Agency) to suggesting that the esteemed journal Science does not publish factual research, Ms. Salmon’s middle name should most certainly be “Farmed”. David Sutherland rightfully objected to Mainstream lawyer David Wotherspoon’s process of questioning, calling Ms. Salmon’s testimony “window dressing” and “irrelevant”.

In cross examination by Mr. Sutherland, Ms. Salmon was asked if she knew about California seeking to have health warning labels placed on foods containing dioxins, PCB’s and contaminants. Ms. Salmon’s response was to hesitate before saying she’d heard “rumblings” but could not answer to that. It was an odd response given her position of promoting farmed salmon, with California being one of the largest importers of B.C. farmed salmon.

Sutherland followed with questions about when the tobacco industry was under pressure to put warning labels on cigarette packages, first in the U.S. and then in Canada. Ms. Salmon admitted to recalling “some of that”. Sutherland then brought up Don’s writings “Smoke on the Water, Cancer on the Coast” and asked Ms. Salmon to look at the part of the publication that showed ads by the tobacco industry prior to labeling, with slogans such as “More scientists and educators smoke Kents” and “As your Dentist, I recommend Viceroys “. Sutherland then made the point that the tobacco industry, much like the farmed salmon industry, were making their claims based on science, by comparison drawing attention to the BC Salmon Facts website and the public campaign making claims that farmed salmon was safe and healthy based on scientific “facts”. Ms. Salmon responded that she did not see the comparison and that she put her faith in the CFIA,WHO and the government of Canada, saying “If we can’t trust the government…” (Let’s put that can of worms on the shelf for the time being!)

Following lunch break, Mary Ellen Walling, Executive Director of the BCSFA, took the stand. It was quickly established that Ms. Walling’s educational background was to study strategies used by ENGO‘s such as CAAR to attack the Aquaculture Industry, then working for the BCSFA to educate people about fish farming and the so-called benefits while promoting the industry to various communities and public in general. Not to her credit, she proudly mentioned working with the S.A.D. (Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue and yes, it’s as sad as it sounds) WWF, CAAR, PEW and a few others.

Mr. Sutherland took to cross examination of Walling with the composure and grace of Edvard Greig’s “Morning Mood”, getting straight to the matter of an editorial cartoon in the Province newspaper that depicted Ms. Walling as a gun toting seal killing PR person for the BCSFA. Why, pray tell, should Don’s depictions on his blogs be seen as any worse than what’s published in mainstream media editorial? The best Walling could come up with is that she feels Don’s attack is more personal and persistent and that he is not an editorial cartoonist.

While Mary Ellen Walling testified that she spent about 65% of her time “responding to miscommunication about salmon farms” (aka damage control), it would seem that she is blind to the fact that Don Staniford is doing the exact same thing spending his time on the miscommunication from the salmon farming industry. Only, he is working to prevent the damage done by salmon farms to wild salmon and the environment, not his economic proceeds.

Wednesday of week two had Dr. Gallo return as witness via Skype. It was almost impossible to follow Gallo’s testimony as he danced around questions and gave answers.

The afternoon continued with the cross examination of Jasminder Jason Mann, employee of EWOS Canada since 1988, currently working in feed formulation and nutrition. Descriptions of feed from processing plants where chicken guts and feathers were converted to feed were compared to “brown sugar” and “peanut butter” in substance. All in all the testimony was rather surreal as PCB and dioxin levels were discussed with the flippancy of tea and crumpets.

Mainstream employee Richard Finch was last to testify for the plaintiff, revealing that salmon samples were skinned before being sent for testing of PCB’s. Troubling information given that PCB’s and dioxins are most absorbed in the skin.

The final day saw Justice Adair grant the admission of Eric LeGresly’s study on the tobacco industry that she may fully understand how comparing the salmon farming industry to the “worst of the worst” might bring a “sting” to the offended party.

Come Monday, January 30th, the tide will change significantly as Dr. John Volpe steps up as witness for Don Staniford, followed by Don Staniford on the stand as of Wednesday. The next few weeks will be Truth time. Free speech cannot be denied. Be there to bear witness to the court case that will expose the salmon farming industry as comparable to the “worst of the worst”.

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