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Another slap in the face for critics of Canadian mining companies? Barrick Gold settles SLAPP suit against Noir Canada

Barrick Gold’s lawsuit against the authors and publisher of the book Noir Canada: pillage, corruption et criminalité en Afrique, a French language exposé of the practices of Canadian mining companies in Africa, has been settled out of court.

(See Barrick Gold’s press release, a Le Devoir news story (in French), and a story in the Winnipeg Free Press)

The defamation lawsuit was a classic example of a “SLAPP” – a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, employed by powerful individuals and corporations to intimidate critics and stifle scrutiny of their actions, typically by claiming that the criticism amounts to libel or slander. Such lawsuits have been employed in efforts to silence indigenous people, environmentalists, labour groups, human rights activists and others who try to oppose logging, mining, resource extraction, pollution, dam-building, and other activities that they believe are harming or may harm health, safety, welfare, or ecological integrity in affected communities.

The Québec Superior Court had ruled that the lawsuit was an abuse of process designed to intimidate Barrick Gold’s critics, and that Barrick should pay the defendants’ legal fees. Despite this important victory, and facing the prospect of a lengthy knock-down, drag-out legal battle, the defendant authors and publisher decided to settle the case out of court. As part of the settlement (according to the Barrick press release), they agreed to cease publication and reprinting of the book, and to make a “significant payment” to Barrick.

Barrick explicitly agrees, in its press release, that the authors and the publisher, Écosociété, wrote and published Noir Canada in good faith, in the belief that it was legitimate. It also acknowledges that

“Noir Canada was written to provoke a public debate about controversies surrounding the presence of Canadian interests in Africa and to call for the creation of a public inquiry about this Canadian presence in Africa. [The authors] still maintain this position and continue to inquire about the role of private corporations active as commercial partners with African political representatives engaged in armed conflicts.”

But how much room does this settlement leave for such investigation into and public debate about the connection between Canadian companies and environmental damage, armed conflict, and human rights violations around the world?  A group of Québec intellectuals thinks that it will have a chilling effect, and I believe their concerns are well founded. Their commentary was published in Le Devoir yesterday, in French. An English translation was posted today on the blog Free Speech at Risk. It is important reading.

Here is a bit of what they said:

“Still the reader may wonder why the authors have nevertheless "accepted" another SLAPP from Barrick Gold. Why did they "choose" to comply with these conditions? Those who ask these questions have no idea of the kind of psychological pressures that can take place in thèse circumstances. The consequences of this lawsuit are enormous for the authors. Lives have been turned upside down forever. One must be aware of the fact that the out of court deliberative process does not in general take the form of a conversation over a cup of tea. In the case of a continuing SLAPP, a poisonous atmosphere often prevails, even if one is looking for an out of court settlement. The lawyers try to demoralize the opposition. Thus, the authors and the publisher did not choose anything. They were desperately trying to extricate themselves from a legal unbearable straitjacket.

“Despite the ferocity with which Barrick's lawyers have practiced censorship, it is remarkable to note at the end of this process the strength of character of the authors and the publisher. They strongly reaffirmed the rationale for the publication of their book.

“Moreover, the admissions required by Barrick in fact reveal a certain weakness on the part of the company itself. It can only win its case by exerting an enormous pressure on its opponents. But in so doing, it shows that the lawsuit was from the very beginning not a procedure meant to refute but rather to silence the authors and their legitimate questions.”

This episode underlines the need for anti-SLAPP legislation in Canada.  In the United States, around half of the states have anti-SLAPP laws protecting the right to public participation, allowing courts to dismiss abusive lawsuits, award legal fees to SLAPP defendants, and allow them to launch “SLAPPBack” lawsuits against those who launch SLAPPs. British Columbia had such a law briefly in 2001, enacted by the departing New Democrats and repealed quickly by the incoming Liberal government. Québec introduced draft anti-SLAPP legislation in 2008, which was enacted in 2009—too late to stop Barrick from bringing its lawsuit. Ontario is mulling the prospect (see a thoughtful paper on this by Osgoode Hall Law School student Christine Kellowan, posted days before the Noir Canada settlement in an effort to renew the debate that had appeared to die down in the last year).

The City of Toronto’s Core Service Review

As my previous postings have referenced, I am working for the Toronto Environment Office for the summer. It is an extremely interesting time to be working for the municipal government. Last week, the Core Service Review, conducted by KPMG, recommended that the City undertake a number of changes and reductions in its environmental protection and improvement activities to help the city realize cost savings and close the deficit gap.

Political leanings and ideology aside, this is a great example of how our government works and the democratic process. On Thursday July 21, the public is invited to provide deputations (in person or written) expressing their opinion about these proposed reductions. 

As an MBA student focusing in both sustainability and organizational change, I am very interested in the outcomes of this process. How will the vision, mission, and activities of the Toronto Environment Office evolve? How will these changes be communicated not only to TEO staff, but within City Hall and to the general public? How will the key decision makers obtain buy in from key stakeholders?

Live Green Toronto Festival

With the sun shining and the mercury soaring (30+ degrees), I think we can breathe a collective sigh and say, "summer is here". The July long weekend is the official start of cottage weekends, summer concerts, and events and street festivals in the city. From Pride Week to Taste of the Danforth, the Honda Indy to Caribana, there is no shortage of action this summer.

One of the festivals I am most looking forward to is the Live Green Toronto Festival at Yonge and Dundas Square on July 16. This is Toronto's largest outdoor green festival with hundreds of green products and services, outdoor vendors, and live music throughout the day!

I can't wait to check out the vendors, munch on some local (and wheat free!) food, and take in some great live music. I'll also bring some of my duplicate, or less loved, DVDs for the SWAPZONE. I'm always looking to update my DVD collection at home and at the cottage (I need to at least entertain the possibility that there might be a rainy day) and this swap event is a totally free way to add some new titles to my collection -- plus, unlike other no cost options i.e. holding up your local blockbuster or downloading titles online, it is legal! 

Meaning, after it's all said and done, I'll have some new movies and music, and some extra coin in my wallet for some more tasty treats or perhaps a local microbrew on a patio that evening…

Flat screen TVs blamed for accelerating global warming

"A gas used in the making of flat screen televisions, nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), is being blamed for damaging the atmosphere and accelerating global warming."

Read the full article

I found this interesting to read especially considering that this gas isn't a part of the Kyoto Protocol. As such it is probably a good idea to do some further research on the subject as it seems to be a possible environmental threat. Also, there is an equally interesting discussion happening in the comments section.

The Big Green Purse! AKA The Sustainable Shopping Bible Pt. 2/4

Pt.2 - Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

Do we really need to slather our bodies with 10 or 15 products every day? Or have the manufacturers of these commodities simply convinced us that we do?”

consider the notion that we have possibly been brainwashed to believe we need to douse ourselves in chemicals to make us "beautiful" - whatever!

Some Sad Facts:

  • Cosmetics are among the least-regulated substances in the marketplace
  • A U.S. research report showed that 89% of 10,500 ingredients used in cosmetics have not been evaluated for safety
  • Cosmetics manufacturers do not require FDA approval
  • Evidence is mounting that women face risk of breast cancer due to cumulative exposure to the chemicals in these products
  • Only 10% of breast cancers have been linked to known risk factors like smoking and heredity
  • The cumulative use of cosmetics and care products may also be contributing to asthma
  • Wastewater treatment systems cannot remove many of the chemicals they contain when they are washed down the drain.
  • Check out , a reliable and informative safety guide to cosmetics and care products, run by the Environmental Working Group (thanks Ashley!)

Africa’s Overlapping Crises

UNEP has just released a visually stunning and deeply disturbing atlas of Africa's changing environment. Using an array of satellite images, ground photographs and maps, the nearly 400-page publication depicts a sobering portrait of environmental destruction on a massive scale. While Africa's population has certainly increased in the 20th century, much of this damage is occuring due to continued unsustainable resource extraction or straight out plunder as in the case of many of the continent's bloody but underreported brush wars. The resulting widescale dislocation of populations as well as rapid urbanization have also taken their toll (Independent).

However, the transformation of African Agriculture has perhaps carried the biggest environmental and human impact. As noted economist Walden Bello has noted, a combination of ill-advised agricultural and economic policies have successively destroyed "the local productive base of smallholder agriculture" in favour of Western-style agriculture. These developmental disasters have been further compounded by unfair global trade that has broken the back of African farmers, even has the conversion of ever more land to cash crop production has claimed forests while only producing massive food insecurity.

Indeed, at the time of independence, Africa was a net food exporter, a situation that has been turned on its head under World Bank tutelage and IMF structural adjustment. Now famine perpetually stalks the land, while the African people's age-old coping mechanisms for drought have long overwhelmed by their economic weakness. As Bello argues, biofuels have only provided the coup de grace to a global food system that has been heading towards the current disaster for decades.