Fish-farm foe takes fight against industry to Scotland

A gag order won't silence Doug Staniford's international activism

VANCOUVER – British Columbia’s highest court may have placed a muzzle on anti-salmon-farming activist Don Staniford, but that hasn’t stopped the man described by one judge as a “zealot” from continuing his personal battle against the industry.

After losing a defamation case this past summer against one of the province’s biggest salmon-farming companies, Mainstream Canada, Staniford moved shop to Scotland.

There, he leads an organization known as Protect Wild Scotland, co-ordinating actions against Norwegian-owned, salmon-farming companies in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and even back in B.C.

There, he is equally as vocal on the issue of salmon farming and appears unfazed by the gag order put in place in B.C.

“The question for my lawyer and the question for me in the future is how can this injunction, this judgment, this ruling be applicable to my work in Scotland and Ireland,” said Staniford, during a recent interview.

“I’ve always been a global campaigner and visited New Zealand and Australia and Chile, so how can they enforce such a ludicrous judgment internationally, especially, when you’ve got Twitter and Facebook.”

The B.C. Court of Appeal ordered Staniford this past July to pay $75,000 in damages for defaming Mainstream Canada during a 2011 campaign, in which he used graphics that looked like cigarette packages and boasted slogans like, “Salmon Farming Kills Like Smoking.”

The three member panel found that a lower court judge erred when she upheld Staniford’s defence of fair comment during the original defamation ruling, a ruling in which she called him a “zealot,” challenged his credibility and noted his “closed-mindedness and deep prejudices make him an unreliable reporter of facts.”

B.C. Court of Appeal Justice David Tysoe said the defamatory publications did not meet all four elements of a legal test because Staniford didn’t reference the facts upon which he based his comments.

Tysoe then ordered Staniford to pay $25,000 and $50,000 in general and punitive damages, respectively, and granted a permanent injunction, requested by the Norwegian-owned company, restraining the activist from “publishing similar words and images in the future.”

Staniford said he has done what’s necessary in B.C. to comply with the court order, taking down his Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture and Superheroes 4 Salmon websites and even stopping his blog.

Careful, too, is Staniford about what he says of Mainstream during interviews, while his Vancouver-based lawyer David Sutherland awaits a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada on whether it will hear an appeal.

Stifled in B.C., Staniford said he “had no real choice but to set up shop somewhere else,” and he is now working with a private Scottish land owner, taking action against the industry, specifically the Norwegian-owned companies.

“My boss has six salmon farms within 30 kilometres of her salmon river, so the challenge is to move those six farms by 2020 and fight the Scottish government’s plans for a 50 per cent expansion of the industry by 2020.”

Staniford said he presented Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, with a letter in early December, and it called on the government to “curb expansion by instituting an immediate moratorium.”

In November, he co-ordinated protests against the industry at grocery stores in England, and he worked in September with a Green party member of the Scottish Parliament to introduce a question on the ownership of salmon-farming companies.

Staniford said he also filed a recent complaint against the BBC over a program it aired about the industry. Protect Wild Scotland alleges on its website that the BBC “caved into demands by the Norwegian-owned giant and the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation,” and decided not to interview the environmental organization for the program.

Few of those who have found themselves on the receiving end of Staniford’s actions are willing to say much about the campaigner.

The Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation wouldn’t even use his full first name in recent email response to The Canadian Press.

“I can confirm that D. Staniford is protesting in the UK, however, we have no further comment to make,” said Angela Kelly, a spokeswoman for the organization.

Similar, too, was the response from the BBC.

“We are happy that the piece was editorially balanced and showed no bias towards either side in the ongoing debate about the future of fish farming,” said an unidentified spokesperson.

Grant Warkentin, a spokesman for Mainstream Canada, which changed its name to Cermaq in November, said the company doesn’t have much to say about Staniford anymore because it doesn’t have any operations in Scotland.

“We’re not really following his activities in Scotland,” he added, noting his company is continuing its work in B.C.

However, Iain Thom, a spokesman for Alison Johnstone, a member of the Scottish parliament, confirmed Staniford asked her to lodge a written parliamentary question on the ownership of Scottish salmon companies, and he called Staniford a well-known and committed campaigner.

“The question seemed a sensible one, so we were happy to do so,” he said.

Staniford was back in Vancouver recently, where he visited family and friends and attended a flash mob against a proposed mining project, and on a following night, he planned on attending an event for indigenous rights.

Staniford said he has no plans of giving up his fight against the industry.

“I am a campaigner and I have been for 15 years against salmon farming,” he said. “I’ve worked in Ireland, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, the United States, Canada, all around the world against salmon farming, and I will continue to do so.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.