Terence Corcoran: How Greenpeace Canada Landed Itself In Serious Legal Trouble
Interfering with economic relations is a serious bit of wrongdoing under Canadian tort law. Greenpeace lost its first attempt to get the economic relations part of a legal case removed.
For some time Greenpeace Canada has been mounting a campaign to bring SLAPP legislation into Canada, the idea being that the corporations should be legally discouraged from taking legal action against aggressive environmental activists.
SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, a concept swallowed whole by Ontario’s Liberal government, which produced a bill that would prevent a corporation from responding to defamatory statements made by groups such as Greenpeace. The green groups, after all, are said to be acting “in the public interest” and should therefore be above the laws of defamation that might prevent them taking on private corporate interests.
Well, Greenpeace just suffered a major defeat in Ontario court that goes way beyond the narrow confines of defamation and SLAPP legislation. In a decision Tuesday, an Ontario Divisional Court tribunal ordered Greenpeace Canada to pay $22,000 in legal costs to forest giant Resolute Forest Products. The court also ordered Greenpeace “to deliver its statement of defence within 10 days of this decision.”
That should be easy for Greenpeace, since it has been dragging its heels on the Resolute lawsuit for more than a year. It’s had plenty of time to prepare a response to Resolute’s numerous allegations and claims filed in Ontario Superior Court in May 2013.
Those charges were neatly summarized in the Divisional Court’s Tuesday decision. Resolute, in its statement of claim against Greenpeace:
“… pleads causes of action in defamation, malicious falsehood and intentional interference with economic relations. It alleges that Greenpeace published defamatory articles critical of Resolute’s forestry and corporate practices and secretly disseminated them to Resolute’s customers. It is also alleges that Greenpeace has continuously and intentionally interfered with Reolute’s economic relations by threatening and intimidating its customers. Resolute seeks general damages of $5-million and punitive damages of $2-million.”
An astute reader might note that Resolute’s claims against Greenpeace Canada go way beyond the narrow business of defamation that might be covered by any prospective SLAPP legislation. If such a SLAPP law were to exist (the Ontario Liberals went to an election before their proposed bill could be passed), Greenpeace might be able to overcome charges of defamation. But SLAPP laws do not cover the other elements of the charges against Greenpeace.
In fact, Greenpeace did not challenge proceeding on the defamation allegations, perhaps because even if found guilty of defaming Resolute under current law, the ultimate penalties might be manageable. Far more serious would be the potential $5-million and $2-million penalties for having “intentionally interfered with economic relations” between Resolute and its customers.
Interfering with economic relations is a far more serious bit of wrongdoing under Canadian tort law. Greenpeace lost its first attempt to get the economic relations part of the case removed, claiming there was lack of evidence in the Resolute claims. But an Ontario Superior court judge disagreed, saying that in his view Resolute “identifies actions which constitute essential elements of the tort, namely to injure, interference with economic interests by unlawful means and a corresponding loss.”