Dec 9/97: Press conference on Friends of Lubicon trial


Friends of the Lubicon
December 9, 1997

Concerned that despite its significance for the right to freedom of expression there had been very little media coverage of the Daishowa v. Friends of the Lubicon trial in Canada, the Humanist Movement organized a press conference featuring several prominent and respected Canadians who spoke out about the lawsuit.

Alan Borovoy of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, broadcaster and scientist David Suzuki, and broadcaster, writer and producer Patrick Watson expressed their shared concern that Daishowa's lawsuit against the Friends of the Lubicon could make consumer boycotts illegal in Canada and is a serious threat to everyone's right to free speech.

What follows is a transcript of that event.

The Daishowa v. Friends of the Lubicon trial is wrapping up on December 10, 11, 12 with closing statements by both parties. People are welcome to attend the final days starting at 10 am at 361 University Ave., Toronto, rm. 4-10.

Transcript of Press Conference
with David Suzuki, Patrick Watson, Alan Borovoy and Roberto Verdecchia

Toronto City Hall
September 15, 1997

[NOTE: Recording quality prevents clear transcription; that is noted here by ... ??? ...]

Roberto Verdecchia, Humanist Movement: We have called this press conference here today in support of the Friends of the Lubicon in their current court case against multi-national pulp and paper company, Daishowa. They did not solicit our support, but we offered it any way. We feel that this trial is very important. As most of us know, it threatens the rights of all Canadians to engage in consumer boycotts, for one, and it severely threatens our rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

The humanist movement has been involved with this story for a number of years. We've published articles through our neighbourhood newspapers. I ran as an independent candidate, in the federal election, a couple of months ago and raised this issue. We ran in the election to raise issues like this, that were not being raised by the traditional parties. We wrote articles in the paper, we ran in the election, and waited for this to become a big issue in the press, but it never seemed to become a big issue. Lots of people that we were speaking to, never knew what was going on.

So, most recently, we went to the streets and did a petition campaign. A handful of members in Toronto and Montreal organized this campaign, to the heads of the media, the Sun, Star, Globe, etc... It was this petition of about 1,000 signatures of people demanding full and complete coverage of this up-coming trial. They felt that it was a significant trial for Canadian society. So we handed those petitions over to the media waiting for some kind of response. Still, there was not much. There were some notable exceptions, but in general there was not much reported.

In order to try to raise the profile of this case, and talk about the importance of this case, we decided to invite some eminent Canadians like Alan Borovoy , Patrick Watson and David Suzuki to give their opinions on this issue. So, that is why we invited them here today. And before I let them speak, we just wanted to state that for us, for the humanist movement, we see this trial as an attempt by a multi-national corporation to use the laws and legal system of this country against Canadian citizens to silence Canadian participation. We see it as a dangerous sort of precedent or dangerous evidence of a continuing tendency for a corporate interest to take precedence over citizens' rights and human rights.

We call on all the politicians of this country, at every level, the Municipal level, the Provincial level and National levels, to just take a stand on this issue. There are things on the Multi-lateral Agreement on Investment, that have been negotiated in secret, which also threaten our rights in front of corporate interests, so we are calling on them to take a stand on that issue, and on this case specifically, we would like to hear from them and what they have to say about this case. Now, I would like to let speaker, Alan Borovoy, the general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association speak. (CCLA)

Alan Borovoy: The Canadian Civil Liberties Association takes no position on the merits of the dispute between the Daishowa and the Lubicon, but the CCLA does take a position on the merits of the law governing that dispute.

Some of the problems with that law are well illustrated in the interim injunction that the Divisional Court granted to Daishowa several months ago. That injunction restrains the Friends of the Lubicon from intentionally interfering with Daishowa's contractual and economic relations, by unlawful means, including picketing and threats of picketing aimed at Daishowa customers. That is what the injunction says.

Now, if it is not unlawful to conduct a boycott why should it be unlawful to picket in support of that boycott? How are the boycotters supposed to line-up support for their position?

Of course, I know some people who will say they can always buy ads, or they can advertise on TV, radio and the newspapers, but that is not much help to a lot of people in the real world who cannot afford it.

They may also be told that they can picket somewhere else. I know that some courts have sometimes said: Well you can picket somewhere else not at the place of the dispute. This is the way we sometimes do things in Canada. In Canada, we might not ban picket lines, but we might reroute them. So, the picket line becomes an exercise not in freedom of communication but in freedom of soliloquy.

In the past number of years, Aboriginal protesters have been told that they may not establish armed barricades as they did at Oka, they may not blockade highways as they have threatened to do in a number of places, and they may not seize or occupy a recreational park as they did at Ipperwash. We do not quarrel with the idea that everyone must obey the law, but we do insist that the law must be fair to everyone. And that means an effective right to conduct boycotts, and an effective right to conduct boycotts must include a broad right to picket in pursuit of such boycotts.

As a result of all of this, the CCLA, the other day, wrote a letter to the Attorney General of Ontario requesting a meeting. We are asking for a meeting so that we may begin the process of reviewing and revising the incomprehensible and unfair law of picketing in this country. We thought this was an ideal opportunity to put that issue on the political agenda. We do not pretend that it is not devoid of complexity, but that it is something that requires attention on the political agenda, it is just not enough to leave this on the hit and miss basis that it has been in the courts.

David Suzuki: I am here today, I guess, in the role of a friend of the Friends of the Lubicon. I do not know how many layers we are going to be able to build along here.

I agree very completely with what Roberto said in terms of the implications of this case for other groups across this country. I already sense a very strong fear and chill among grassroots environmental groups, because of the enormous potential of legal suits that would be extremely costly to just ordinary grassroots people. So the implications of this case are immense. I would like to just briefly indicate that the whole story, of which this is just a part, is a very multi-layered one and I would like to just lay that background on the table for all of you.

One of the last great forests that remains on this planet is the northern Boreal Forest that circles the planet from North America, to Europe, to Asia. Canada has a very large part of this last remaining forest. Alberta has decided that its Boreal Forest is one of its great resources to be exploited. We can get an idea of how suddenly the Boreal Forest in Alberta has become a resource. In 1971 less than 3% of Alberta's Boreal Forest was allocated for logging now it is over 75%.

I think, for Canadians, the way in which that resource has been offered up to trans-nationals is very significant. We think that we are an industrialized country but basically we are still a resource driven country, and that great ecosystem, the Boreal Forest in Alberta, has been essentially given away to companies like Mitsubishi and Daishowa for $1.40 per ton of pulp which on the market will bring $900.00. Now we are supposed to be not only an industrialized, but also an educated country, but that sure does not strike me as being very educated. To me, we are giving away the Boreal Forest.

Part of the Daishowa allocation included most of the territory the Lubicon regard as theirs. The Lubicon up until the early 70's were still basically self-sufficient and basically a hunting society. They have been heavily impacted by oil, gas, roads and now logging.

Friends of the Lubicon were then set up. These are grassroots people who were showing their support of the Lubicon.

To me, what Daishowa has done has been incredibly vindictive, punitive and basically bullying. I said this in court to some of the people testifying from the company earlier last week. I could not help myself and I leapt up and said, you guys this is shameful and you are bullies and I really feel that. They are using the threat of litigation to try to chill any kind of public discussion or protest against the activities of multi-nationals and, I think, this is the context within which we have to see what's going on here today. Thank you.

Roberto Verdecchia: Thank you David. Now let's introduce Patrick Watson, the author (of the book entitled) and producer of the monumental TV series: The Struggle for Democracy.

Patrick Watson: I am not here to represent anyone but myself. As a student of democracy, I found myself outraged at what was happening structurally here, as a democratic function. It is absolutely essential to the operation of democracy that citizens be able to assemble in public places in order to declare, not just with their voices and their ideas but with their bodies, the position that they take on public issues. I am just going to present you with a simple analogy and ask you to consider it for 30 seconds or so.

Suppose you change the players in this particular structural arrangement. Suppose instead of the Friends of the Lubicon, -- the group of citizens who wish to use their bodies in public spaces, in order to express their opposition to something that is happening in Canada -- suppose instead of the Friends of the Lubicon it was the Conservative Party of Canada. And suppose the people they were opposing -- and this opposition, if successful, was going to cause financial difficulty to the group they were opposing -- suppose the people they were opposing were the Liberal Party of Canada, that happen to form the government of the day. And supposing a court came along and said Sorry, Conservative Party of Canada you can not carry your banners and placards outside the Liberal party headquarters, or outside the Parliament buildings of Canada, because that is going to cause, if you succeed, financial hardship to the people you are opposing.The structure is exactly the same. If a court behaved like that in this country today, can you imagine how the citizens would react. I just asked you to apply your imagination, because to me the analogy is absolutely clear.

Roberto Verdecchia: Thank you Patrick. Now are there any questions? There is also a representative from the Sierra Legal Defence Fund (SLDF), here today, to possibly answer any questions about the trial if there are any questions.

(The following are selected questions and their answers. Preambles to some questions have been omitted.)

Question: ...? ? ? ...politicians...???.. why aren't they standing up for the Lubicon?

David Suzuki: I think, that is the most critical question. To me, it is astonishing that we in a democracy elect people presumably to represent us and look out for our interests. When Sergio Marchi was put as Minister of Environment, within two weeks after he became Minister, I met with him and I said one of the most urgent actions that we need is protection of grassroots organizations against the enormous power of these multi-nationals. We are in a time when all the rhetoric is repeated over and over about globalization, about the importance of becoming a part of a global economy. It has never made any sense to me that people who we elect to represent us, immediately rush out to become a part of a global economy over which they have absolutely no control. It doesn't make sense to me. So we have this ludicrous situation of a multi-national company coming from Japan, who is not only given our forests but given massive subsidies to exploit those forests, and now are using the Canadian courts to SLAPP Canadian citizens and prevent them from speaking out. Where the heck are all of our elected politicians in all of this? You have asked the question and I do not know what the answer is.

Question: What about the underlying conflict? I think I read the Federal government said it was going to appoint an arbitrator or mediator for this land dispute, what's happened there?

Kevin Thomas, Friends of the Lubicon: The Lubicon have been essentially in negotiations with the Federal government for the last two years, and they are currently trying to get a meeting with the Minister of Indian Affairs, Jane Stewart, in order to get those negotiations back on track. Hopefully there will be a meeting between the two parties sometime within the next couple of weeks.

Question: What is Daishowa asking in damages?

Kevin Thomas: They have been very coy about that, they would not say what they're asking. They're claiming we have cost them about 11 or 12 million in lost revenue, but they will not say specifically how much they are asking from us. I think the reason they're being coy about it, is they do not want the public to fixate on figures, and compare that with the kind of incomes that people like myself have. I think, it is a very nasty public relations move for them.

Tom Heintzman, Sierra Legal Defence Fund: In addition with being somewhat coy with the figures, Daishowa has also brought motions to keep the damage documents confidential. Ordinarily, in Canada, the court room is an open place, it is not a Star Chamber, where the public can view the proceedings of justice. They have asked for certain records to be sealed in order to protect their confidentially, despite the fact that they have come to a public forum asking for justice.

Question: In the past few years, there have been a number of citizen's and consumer groups that have been doing certain kinds of actions to try to encourage corporations to behave responsibly, I am wondering why some things are okay to do, and others are not? Because I myself about a year or two ago was present at a demonstration in front of the Gap to encourage the Gap to adopt responsible labour practices, I was wondering why is it okay for some people to walk around on sidewalks and ... ??? ... & for others not to ... ??? ...

Kevin Thomas: The Gap acted responsibly in that situation, and the difference between them and Daishowa is tremendous, because Daishowa has acted irresponsibly and they have gone out of their way to destroy Friends of the Lubicon. If they are successful in this case, you would not have the right to picket at the Gap either, and any corporation which feels threatened by an environmental group, or consumers' group of any type, you will find the corporations will have the power to shut down those pickets.

Question: All I see, was that the Gap looked at the people and thought: well it's better public relations to talk to them rather than to try to squash them. But in this case Daishowa decided that it's better to squash people than to talk to them.

David Suzuki: What have you heard about the Daishowa case? Most people I talked to have never heard about what's going on here. The Gap protest got a lot of publicity. That publicity worked. But here is a group that is being hammered and we do not see it. This trial has been going on for a while.

Question: What if the company wins this case? What does that mean for democracy and our rights?

Patrick Watson: If the company wins this case, I think, the single most important aspect of it is the silencing of citizens' voices in public space. That sounds like very bland language. But it describes something that is absolutely crucial: we cannot have a genuine democracy, we can not have personal liberty, if our courts are prepared to tell citizens that they are not permitted to express opinions. That includes putting their bodies in public places and carrying placards about a matter of public interest, as this one clearly is, because it has to do with a resource that belongs to the citizens of Canada.

Question: Perhaps there can be some comment on SLAPP suits elsewhere in other jurisdictions?

David Suzuki: The threat of SLAPP suits is very real. We have seen how McDonalds was willing to spend how many millions in order to get at two people and win, I guess, a kind of pyrrhic victory in the end. The ripple effect of that kind of case is immense. I am absolutely sure that groups like the one indicated here, that were protesting the Gap, will be very nervous about continuing that kind of activity in the face of the threat of a suit that can literally wipe you out economically. These are people and citizens who care passionately about an issue, but who simply cannot afford to put all of their savings at risk. It is going to have a huge chilling effect. That is why I talked to Marchi about this, that something has to be done to limit the threat of SLAPP suits, because it would have an enormous chilling effect on the environmental movement.

Question: Can someone explain to me the term SLAPP suit?

Comment: Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation that is my understanding.

David Suzuki: So, this is where a company will take on an environmental group, and attempt to essentially push them into penury, by winning . It is a very powerful tactic. What's happening with the Friends of the Lubicon, I think, is just part of a tactic by the business sector.

Tom Heintzman: There is an interesting side-note in this case, that you might find a little fascinating. There is a law professor in Victoria by the name of Chris Tollefson who writes a lot about SLAPP suits & in particular has written about this particular case. He also happens to be a member of the board at Sierra Legal Defence Fund. As part of interlocutory relief in this case, Daishowa asked for, in effect, a muzzle order on Professor Tollefson in his teaching and writings capacities, and he was not permitted to make representations because he was not party to the case when that motion was on going. Now in the end, nothing was granted against him, but the possibility that someone, who is not party to the litigation, could have the potential of having a muzzle order put against them, and not be able to make submissions, this is something that might give us all pause to think.

Question: With this current case and all the SLAPP suits, it seems to me, that there is a move to give businesses, and their right to make profit, top rights throughout the world. In other words, their rights will count more than any other rights and other rights may never exist. They are taking rights away from the environment and taking rights away from people. The only rights people may have left will be on the interpersonal relationship level. If a business says that we want to enslave you, they will be allowed to do so. It seems to me, these kind of cases are leading towards that. Are there any comments on that?

David Suzuki: You said it!

Question: I am wondering if you could enlighten me as to why the press has not given this much coverage?

Roberto Verdecchia: Anybody reached a conclusion? It is hard to say, There has been some coverage, but not what we think this merits.

Comment: A couple of good funerals lately you know ...???...

Question: I have been speaking to Daishowa people about this. They have given me their point of view and I wonder if I could kind of repeat it, and have your response?

They say they have had the pulp mill in existence, I think, since 1990, and they have the permission from the Alberta government to log in the traditional Lubicon territory, since that time. They have not done so for seven years, except for one instance in 1991(actually it was 1990) by a subsidiary. Their question is: At what point does it cease being corporate responsibility and start being the responsibility on the part of the parties in the land negotiations. In other words, they seem to be tired of being a target, and seems to me what they're saying is: the Federal government and the Lubicon leadership should be the focus of the tension on not having this case resolved.

David Suzuki: I think it is absolutely legitimate for them to ask that question. We are asking that all the time. We have elected people in office, and it seems to me, that citizens are raising questions about the implications of their decisions.

If I was on the board of Daishowa I would have rushed into Alberta for heavens sake. They're going to give us all those trees for nothing basically, and then subsidize us to the tune of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. Why not do that? Then I suppose, suddenly by being slapped in the face by realizing, my god, our forest allocation covers Lubicon territory. You know it must be a shock to them because they were assured by the Getty government that this land was theirs to use. Now I think that the degree of public protest, its success is measured by the fact that they have not actually gone in and logged much of the Lubicon territory. But it is up to our political representatives to make a stand on this and they're quite right to raise that question.

The question to me is: why though, for a company that is given its pulp, at a dollar forty per ton it is a gift, to now claim that this tiny group of grassroots people must be punished by claiming money back from them. It just strikes me as more then just their saying: Now look here we are doing our business and it is up to your government. They're taking a very aggressive act, a bullying act, I think, that it is meant as a lesson to other people.

Question: Could this be a reason that the public ...???... be afraid to speak out ... ? ? ? ...

David Suzuki: I think, the people concerned about why aren't the media talking about this, you are under a mistaken notion that the media are in the business of presenting you with the important issues of the day. No seriously, the newspapers are in the business of selling newspapers. TV is in the business of getting audiences, basically. And if you're from outer space and were to judge what Canadians or human beings considered their important issues on the basis how much time is spent in the news, just by looking at news reports you would have to judge that in the last two years the O. J. Simpson trial of course was overwhelmingly crucial. Certainly, for the last three weeks the death of one individual (Princess Diana) is a major, major thing.

The media does not reflect the issues that are really critical and, as the media becomes more and more concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people, those people are really going to decide what are the priorities that are going to be covered by the media. As someone who has been in science journalism for many years, I decried the fact that the vast majority of people in the positions of power in media are not educated in science and so to them, they are completely blind to the role science plays in daily life. And you see that reflected in the amount of space given to them in the media. It is as simple as that. The people who were deciding what should be reported have their own values and beliefs. Increasingly the world is dominated by two areas, law and business. People see the world that way. I am a geneticist. I cannot help but whenever I'm in a group like this, I see mutants everywhere, I mean, that's my priority.

Comment: Thanks a lot!! Nice guy!!

Alan Borovoy: David, are you telling us you see mutants here!

David Suzuki: Oh! Absolutely!! I want to talk to you Alan. (Ha! Ha!)

Roberto Verdecchia: We are going to have to wrap this up. I'm sure more people have questions. I am sure there are people you can speak with here. I would like to thank first of all the counselor John Adams and Dan Leckie for allowing us to be here in the room today, and certainly I would like to thank, Alan, Patrick, Dave, Tom for being here, and lending their time and speaking to all of you. And I would like to thank all of you here for coming as well. Thank you!

Friends of the Lubicon
485 Ridelle Ave.
Toronto, ON M6B 1K6
Tel: (416) 763-7500

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