Fair Comment Defamation Defense: The Case Of The Salmon Environmentalist
A libel case between a corporation and an environmentalist highlights the “fair comment” defense for defamation.
Fatal Accusations Lead To Environmental Defamation Lawsuit
Don Staniford, an active member of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture, is at the center of this environmental defamation showdown. You see, Staniford created and distributed material alleging that “Salmon Farming Kills Like Smoking.”
While it may sound like your average activist screed, Mainstream Canada — a Salmon farm — sued the non-profit and Staniford for defamation. “Salmon farming is not nearly as dangerous as smoking” is their battle cry.
Fair Comment Dismissal In Lower Court
The trial court dismissed Mainstream Canada v. Staniford. Both in the United States and Canada, “fair comment” has always been an acceptable defamation defense, and Staniford’s legal team successfully argued the point.
Explain Fair Comment, As It Relates To Defamation Lawsuits
Fair comment is a defamation defense in Commonwealth countries like Canada and the UK. In short, fair comment allows people to voice opinions about matters of public interest, without fear of retribution. So long as the ultimate goal of a statement is not malicious, fair comment is a viable libel shield.
In this particular defamation case, the judge ruled that even though Staniford’s claims weren’t accurate, “malicious animosity” wasn’t the “dominant purpose” of his actions. In other words, since Staniford truly believes that Salmon farming is destructive, and his ultimate goal was to save fish, not hurt Mainstream Canada, the judge ruled in favor of him.
If A U.S. Court Heard This Case, Would The Fair Comment Defense Work?
The Mainstream Canada v. Staniford defamation case is playing out in a British Columbia court, which raises the question: Would a U.S. court have ruled differently? No, an American court would’ve dismissed the Staniford case, but for slightly different reasons.
Ever since the Supreme Court ruled in New Yorks Times Co. v. Sullivan, a standard of “actual malice” is applied in many U.S. defamation lawsuits – meaning the plaintiff must prove the defendant purposefully lied, with the intent to harm. But more than that, Staniford’s fliers would most likely be seen as political agitprop – and therefore allowable.
Do you need a business defamation lawyer? If yes, contact us today. Our excellent defamation attorneys will work to resolve your situation quickly. Sometimes, a cease and desist defamation letter is all it takes to vanish the problem.