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Salmon farmer calls BC Supreme Court decision a 'vindication'

CANADA - Creative Salmon, a Tofino-based salmon farm company is hailing the BC Supreme Court ruling, which held that Don Staniford,a paid anti-aquaculture campaigner, had defamed Creative Salmon in two press releases issued in June 2005.

In both press releases, Mr. Staniford inferred that Creative Salmon was using malachite green, a potential genotoxic carcinogen. In the second press release, Mr. Staniford stated that Creative Salmon was a "liar" and a "consumer fraud" when it stated on its webpage that it had not used antibiotics on its food fish since October 2001. The Court found that neither press release was true, nor was either a fair comment on a matter of public interest. The Court concluded that the statements were defamatory and ordered that Mr. Staniford pay to Creative Salmon general damages, aggravated damages and costs.

Mme Justice Gerow also concluded that Mr. Staniford's statements were motivated by malice because he was attempting to build opposition to Creative Salmon's objective of obtaining organic certification for its fish. Creative Salmon is a founding member of the Pacific Organic Seafood Association (POSA) and has been involved with that organization in working to develop provincially recognized organic aquaculture certification standards.

Mr. Staniford defended the action on the basis of fair comment and truth. Mme. Justice Gerow ruled that Mr. Staniford's defence of fair comment failed because there was no evidence that Creative Salmon was dishonest and she further concluded that his statements were not warranted on the facts known to him and were not made honestly and fairly based on facts that were true. Her Ladyship also ruled that Mr. Staniford's defence of truth failed.

The evidence at trial, which was not contradicted, was that Creative Salmon has never used malachite green and it has not used antibiotics on its market fish since October 17, 2001. The judge concluded, "Creative Salmon is committed to farming salmon organically with minimal environmental impact. Creative Salmon's commitment to producing its fish organically and to the environment increases its cost of production."

Mr. Staniford testified that he authored the press releases in order to educate the public about the impacts of salmon farming on public health and the environment. Creative Salmon argued that the press releases were published maliciously to harm its business.

Mme. Justice Gerow stated that:
"Mr. Staniford did not give a balanced view of the facts. Although he purports to have a role in educating the public, he did not disclose all the facts known to him or present both sides of the story in the press releases."

She also stated:
"It is apparent from the evidence that, although Mr. Staniford's purported motive was to serve the public interest by educating the public regarding the impacts of salmon farming on public health and the environment, he did not give a balanced or complete view, either in the press release or in his subsequent interviews. His real motive was to build opposition to salmon farming. ... Mr. Staniford's concern when he published the press releases, and during subsequent interviews, was not whether the allegations were true or whether the public interest was served. Rather, he used intentionally inflammatory words and withheld facts in order to achieve his goal of increasing opposition to salmon farming."

Mme. Justice Gerow also said:
"Mr. Staniford says that the words "scam", "liar" and "consumer fraud" found in the press release were intentionally chosen by him to act as inflammatory "hooks" or "arresting leads" for the purpose of catching attention. ... In my view, one cannot call someone a liar and a consumer fraud simply to get the reader's attention."

The General Manager of Creative Salmon, Mr. Spencer Evans, called the decision a 'vindication'. "This clearly vindicates our company and we are very pleased with the ruling. More importantly, we're extremely proud of the product that we produce and proud of the fact we haven't used any antibiotics in any fish destined for market since October 17, 2001. For many years, salmon farmers and others in the aquaculture industry have tolerated the defamatory and untrue statements that are repeatedly made by some anti-salmon farm campaigners," Evans said. "Unfortunately, it came to the point where something had to be done about it. Suing Mr. Staniford was not something that we undertook lightly. Our company has maintained good relations with responsible NGO's, scientists and academics from around the world - and we will continue to do so."

When asked why Creative Salmon did not sue the Friends of Clayoquot Sound (FOCS), Evans responded: "Because we hoped, and still hope, to restore a mutually respectful working relationship with the Friends." Evans takes this position even though FOCS reviewed the defamatory press releases and approved them for publication. FOCS also supported Mr. Staniford publicly throughout the trial and solicited donations to fund his defence.

Creative Salmon raises indigenous Chinook (KING) salmon at farm sites in Tofino Inlet, Clayoquot Sound, and employs 45 local residents throughout its operations.

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