Apr 14/98: Sierra Legal Defense Fund statement on Lubicon


Sierra Legal Defence Fund
April 14, 1998

as posted by Friends of the Lubicon, on fol-l

(Toronto)(Vancouver) In a landmark ruling handed down today by the Ontario Court, a consumer boycott launched by Toronto-based Friends of the Lubicon was ruled to be not merely legal, but "a model of how such activities should be conducted in a democratic society."

Dismissing the claims of forestry multinational Daishowa for a permanent injunction, Mr. Justice James MacPherson observed that the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms must be extended to protect political expression on issues of public importance. "The plight of the Lubicon [Cree Nation of northern Alberta] is precisely the type of issue that should generate widespread public discussion", said Justice MacPherson.

The Friends began a consumer boycott in 1991, following the announcement that the Province of Alberta had granted logging rights to Daishowa over lands traditionally used and occupied by the Lubicon Cree Nation. The Lubicon, already suffering from the effects of massive oil and gas development, are fighting to protect their lands while they attempt to negotiate a treaty with the Canadian government.

Four years into the boycott, the corporation sued, claiming among other things that the boycott was an "intentional interference with economic relations" of Daishowa and should be restrained by the Courts.

At issue in the case was the ability of corporations to use the courts to silence public debate on matters of public interest, involving the corporation's activities. Reasoning that corporate rights to commercial expression have already found protection in the Charter the Court said, "If the great principle of freedom of expression protects a corporation then is there any reason why the same principle should not protect a small group of consumers from saying to fellow consumers: 'here is why you should not buy Daishowa's products?'"

"The ruling has profound implications for every activist, everyone who expresses opinion publicly," said Friends' lawyer Karen Wristen of Sierra Legal Defence Fund. "The affirmation of the democratic right of free expression in this judgment is a badly needed antidote to the growing sense of corporate control and domination of the political agenda that is perceived in the activist communities in which we work."

While permitting the consumer boycott to proceed, the Court did impose some restrictions on the language to be used by the Friends in future communications. Observing that the Friends' use of the word 'genocide' (to describe the process of cultural destruction in which the Lubicon find themselves embroiled) was carefully considered and honestly represented the Friends' viewpoint, Justice MacPherson found that the public would not have perceived the term to have been used in the sense urged at trial. He ordered that the word should no longer be used; nor should there be any further reference to an alleged breach on Daishowa's part of an agreement made with the Lubicon in 1988.

For their part, the Friends will call for a moratorium on all boycott activities for the next ten days, to permit Daishowa time to decide whether or not they will give a clear, unequivocal and public commitment to refrain from cutting timber, or buying timber cut from Lubicon lands until such time as the Lubicon land rights issue has been settled and an agreement struck between the Lubicon and Daishowa for forestry operations which respect Lubicon environmental and wildlife concerns.

The Friends of the Lubicon are a small, Toronto-based support group working to raise awareness of the plight of the Lubicon Cree Nation of Northern Alberta.

Sierra Legal Defence Fund is a society incorporated under the B.C. Society Act, having its head office in Vancouver. Operating as a charity, the Fund provides the services of lawyers and scientists free to groups and individuals fighting for environmental protection across Canada.

For Further Information, Contact:

Regarding the decision and its implications:
    Karen Wristen
    Sierra Legal Defence Fund

    Chris Tollefson
    University of Victoria

Regarding the boycott and future plans:
    Kevin Thomas, Stephen Kenda and Ed Bianchi

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