Canada - fighting the legal clamp-down on dissent

Richard Brooks - sued for CA$7 million for defending forests. Photo: Greenpeace Canada.
Richard Brooks - sued for CA$7 million for defending forests. Photo: Greenpeace Canada.
Richard Brooks spoke out against the destruction of Canada's publicly owned boreal forests and loss of caribou habitat. His reward - a $7 million lawsuit from the country's biggest logger, Resolute.
It seems Resolute would rather the public not know what is happening in the Boreal Forest.

We are facing an assault on knowledge, and in an age where knowledge is power, this is putting people at a disadvantage.

Government scientists, environmental groups and concerned citizens are falling victim to an imposed cone of silence.

Canada has long been respected as advocate of democracy, free speech and human rights. But under its strongly 'conservative' leadership, the country is no longer what it used to be.

Political interference with science

In the past five years over 2,000 scientists have been dismissed by the Canadian federal government and a number of important research programs lost along with them.

In 2013, an online survey conducted by Environics of 4,069 government scientists revealed some telling statistics:

Intimidation by lawsuit

Information control is happening in the private sector too. Increasingly, I'm hearing about corporations threatening massive lawsuits and suing individuals and organizations who are standing up and raising questions about their practices.

For instance, here in the province of Ontario in Canada, residents of the small community of Big Point Bay were sued for $3.2 million by developers after they spoke out against a resort project.

Dylan Powell of Marineland Animal Defense was sued $1.5 million by Marineland, an attraction which displays marine mammals for entertainment purposes, because he brought attention to the mistreatment of animals in the facility.

And a few months ago, I was sued for $7 million by Canada's largest logging company, Resolute Forest Products (Resolute), because I stood up and spoke out about its destructive logging practices in Canada's Boreal Forest.

Saving the Boreal Forest

I am not alone in this lawsuit. Greenpeace and my colleague Shane Moffatt are also sued by the multi-billion dollar logging giant. It seems Resolute would rather the public not know what is happening in the Boreal Forest.

I believe that the Boreal Forest is one of my country's treasures and is of global importance in the fight against climate change - it stores over 208 billion tonnes of carbon in its soils and trees. People have the right to know what companies are doing in the forest.

Resolute logs and gets wood from millions of hectares of public forests. Much of the wood it uses to make lumber, newspapers and other paper products comes from the habitat of threatened woodland caribou.

It seems Resolute would rather the public not know what is happening in the Boreal Forest.

Caribou, which are similar to European reindeer, are heading towards extinction in Canada because of massive loss of habitat over the past few decades. Several of the caribou herds living in the forests where Resolute operates are in rough shape.

As an 'umbrella species', caribou are an indicator for the overall health of the forest - meaning that their well-being ensures the survival of dozens of other species that share the same habitat.

The price of speaking out - a $7m lawsuit

In the Montagnes Blanche "Endangered Forest" in the province of Quebec, not only is Resolute destroying caribou habitat, but it is also operating without the free, prior and informed consent of the aboriginal Cree First Nation.

I believe that respecting First Nations' traditions, their lands and their right to free, prior and informed consent about development on these lands is important. When Resolute logs in the traditional territory of First Nations without permission, I and others can't remain idle.

Yet speaking out on these issues has earned me $7 million worth of consequences: Resolute is trying to silence me and others with a massive meritless lawsuit.

By suing me for this exorbitant amount it serves as a distraction from the real issue: what's happening in public forests. This type of bullying tactic has been seen before, where activists, concerned citizens, even elected officials are forced to hire lawyers and take on large legal costs.

A warning to others - don't make a fuss or else!

These lawsuits affect more than the people who are being sued. They also send a clear message to other potential critics, environmental organizations and individuals to think twice before raising a fuss.

Legal threats often work to shut down debate, which is bad for all of us. Nelson Mandela said "A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger."

By using legal tactics to silence one side of the debate, Resolute is creating an unbalance in what information is being shared with the public.

We are not backing down

Therefore, when it comes to informing the public and defending Canada's forests against Resolute destructive logging practices, Greenpeace isn't backing down and neither am I.

This is about more than forests, be they in Canada or elsewhere. It's about free speech and the right to publicly advocate for a better world.

All of us, no matter where we live, should be concerned when a corporation oversteps its boundaries and tries to stifle public debate. If we let it happen in Canada, then it will happen elsewhere as well.



Action: Join more than 45,000 people and pledge to stand up for forests - and tell Resolute that none of us, Canadian or otherwise, will be silenced by a $7 million lawsuit. Sign the #StandForForests pledge.

Richard Brooks is Forest Campaign Coordinator for Greenpeace Canada. He holds a Master's degree in Forest Conservation from the University of Toronto. He was listed as one of most influential people in the pulp and paper sector, ranking number 12 on RISI/Pulp and Paper Magazine's inaugural Top 50 Power List.  In 2013 he was named one of Canada's Clean 50 honourees, recognizing leadership in sustainable development.


More from this author