by Joyce Nelson
“Resolute Forest Products seems to be using the courts to try to settle [forestry] issues,” says Richard Brooks, Greenpeace Canada’s Forest Campaign Coordinator, “and that’s not the proper use of the courts.” Brooks is one of the activists named in the $7 million defamation lawsuit filed on May 23, 2013 by Resolute Forest Products against Greenpeace Canada for its recent
publication, Resolute’s False Promises: The (Un)sustainability Report 2013.
The widely distributed report, published on May 14, was also handed out by Greenpeace Canada at the Resolute stockholders AGM on May 16 in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Resolute, a multinational corporation which operates 22 mills mainly in Quebec, had 2012 sales of $4.5 billion. The company is incorporated in Delaware (making it a US company), but its head office is in Montreal. Formerly called AbitibiBowater (and before that, Abitibi-Consolidated), the company changed its name to Resolute Forest Products in 2011.
Resolute’s lawsuit accuses Greenpeace Canada and the report’s authors of defamation, malicious falsehood and intentional interference with economic relations. Resolute is suing for $5 million in damages, and another $2 million in “punitive, exemplary and aggravated damages.”
According to published reports, the 40-page lawsuit claims that Greenpeace Canada, since December 2012, has been wrongly attacking the company for its logging practices, its record on pay and pensions, and its “tainted” products containing no recycled fibre.
The suit also claims that Greenpeace Canada wrongly implies (in the May 14 report) that Resolute has been logging in the valleys of the Broadback Mountains of Quebec, which are out of bounds to corporate signatories of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. According to iPolitics (June 21, 2013), Resolute’s claim states: “In their natural and ordinary meaning, or … by way of legal innuendo, the words, phrases, allegations of fact and images … were meant and understood to mean that Resolute is harvesting in the Broadback.”
Seth Kursman, Resolute’s spokesperson, told the Toronto Star (June 24) that Greenpeace Canada has also wrongly accused Resolute of not honouring its retirees’ pensions. “That was wrong. Don’t scare old people … that is totally unacceptable behaviour,” he said. On May 3, the Kenora Daily Miner and News reported that Resolute “has agreed to increase its pension payments from $50 million to $80 million per year for the next eight years,” thereby ending a lengthy conflict with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. Greenpeace Canada’s May 14 report did not include that information, stating that the pension issues “remain formally unresolved.”
Because of the huge amount of monetary damages sought, and the location of the filing, Greenpeace Canada and their allies have called Resolute’s action a “SLAPP suit” (Stragetic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), intended to intimidate and silence activists, suppress public organizations (NGOs), and exhaust their limited resources [See Watershed Sentinel, Sept. 2010].
The fact that Resolute filed the lawsuit in Ontario is significant, says Brooks. Resolute’s head office and most significant logging operations are in Quebec, but in 2009, Quebec enacted laws to protect the public from SLAPP suits. Ontario has twice introduced anti-SLAPP legislation, and an Attorney General’s Advisory Panel recommended details for implementing anti-SLAPP legislation in 2010, but Ontario still has no such protection and has therefore become a popular SLAPP suit jurisdiction.
In BC, the NDP government enacted an anti-SLAPP law in April 2001, repealed five months later by Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government. Since then, the BC public has faced numerous SLAPP suits, including a 2012 Taseko Mines Ltd. threat of court action against the Wilderness Committee (WC), claiming that WC had defamed Taseko in an Internet alert about saving Fish Lake from a proposed open-pit mine. New Brunswick introduced an anti-SLAPP bill in 1997, and Nova Scotia did so in 2003, but neither was passed. In the US, 28 states have enacted anti-SLAPP legislation.
On June 4, after significant petitioning by Ontario NGOs and others, Attorney General John Gerretsen re-introduced anti-SLAPP legislation (Bill 83) in the Ontario legislature. Bill 83 passed first reading, but the parliamentary summer break stalled further activity at Queen’s Park. Anticipating the delay, Gerretsen told the Toronto Star (June 4) that he “is hopeful the bill can be passed this fall and take effect in 2014.”
When asked about this legislative delay and how that might affect the lawsuit against Greenpeace Canada, Brooks said, “Our first hope is that Resolute will drop the lawsuit, which has no merit and will cost them in reputational harm. Otherwise, we’re hoping the legislation will be signed into law this autumn. We may be the first lawsuit to test that legislation.”
Goliath Is Still Goliath
The annual income of Greenpeace Canada, considered a substantial environmental NGO, remains small compared to a multinational company such as Resolute, with its billions in annual sales.
The Resolute Board of Directors includes some powerful controllers of international wealth. The new Resolute Chairman, Bradley P. Martin, is vice president for strategic investments with Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., an Ontario conglomerate holding $32 billion in assets. Until 2010, Resolute Board member Richard D. Falconer was the vice chair and managing director of CIBC World Markets Inc. Lead director Alain Rheaume is a former Quebec deputy minister of finance and the founder of Trio Capital Inc.
The Globe & Mail (Oct. 5, 2011) called Resolute director David H. Wilkins, a former US Ambassador to Canada (2005-09), “uber-connected.” Wilkins was a fundraiser for George W. Bush, remains a staunch Republican, and backs right-wing US politicians such as Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, the 2012 presidential candidate. Wilkins is also a lobbyist with the US legal firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, which specializes in business litigation and lobbying. Wilkins’ clients reportedly include (as of 2011) the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the government agency Alberta Energy, Nexen, and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Wilkins is also Special Advisor to the Canadian PR firm, Global Public Affairs, whose clients (as of 2012) include Koch Industries, Total E & P Canada Ltd., Shell Canada, Suncor, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., and the Mining Association of Canada. Wilkins is a director of Porter Airlines, a Member of the Advisory Board of the Canadian American Business Council, and was a speaker at the 2013 Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa.
In July, Greenpeace Canada started an outreach campaign (greenpeace.ca/antislapp) calling for widespread support for provincial and nationwide anti-SLAPP legislation. By mid-July, more than 40 organizations had publicly expressed support on the website. But, says Brooks, “We’re hearing from some groups that they can’t afford to be added to the list out of concern that they, too, will be SLAPPed.”
That is the kind of chilling effect that such lawsuits have.
Joyce Nelson is an award-winning freelance writer/researcher and the author of five books. Between 1991 and 1997, Nelson wrote three research reports for Greenpeace Canada.