activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Category: lawsuits filed against activists

québec court of appeal refuses to hear case brought against canadian community group

Having identified recurring problems in a landlord’s building, including cockroaches, mold, dirt, and doors that never locked, a Canadian community group called Oeil distributed leaflets to tenants and successfully represented a tenant against the landlord at the rent board. In 2012, the landlord’s family sued Oeil for defamation, seeking $5.6 million. According to yesterday’s CTV News article, two courts have now rejected the lawsuit:

With the help of a social activist lawyer, Oeil managed to have the lawsuit tossed out because it was considered abusive, and meant to ruin the organization with legal fees. It’s commonly called a SLAPP lawsuit. Last month the Quebec court of Appeal also refused to hear the … case.

Oeil is now entitled to reimbursement for its court costs and legal fees from the landlord’s family.

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ontario court orders greenpeace canada to pay legal costs to canada’s largest logging company

Canada’s largest logging company, Resolute Forest Products, filed a $7 million defamation lawsuit against Greenpeace Canada in May 2013. Yesterday an Ontario Divisional Court tribunal ordered Greenpeace Canada to pay $22,000 in legal costs to Resolute. According to Greenpeace Canada,

Resolute, formerly AbitibiBowater, operates and sources from large areas of the Boreal Forest, including in the Montagnes Blanches “Endangered Forest” in Quebec and the Trout Lake-Caribou “Endangered Forest” in Ontario. The company has a long history of unsustainable activities in Canada’s Boreal. It is involved in disputes with First Nations communities for logging in areas without their consent and its operations threaten iconic species such as the woodland caribou.

Legal action of this kind, brought by a corporation against an activist or group opposing the corporation, is referred to as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). Most SLAPPs are legally meritless but still achieve their purpose, which is to chill public debate regarding an issue (e.g., forest destruction). Greenpeace has 10 days to file a response.

washington state court of appeals affirms dismissal of lawsuit regarding co-op’s boycott

In 2011, five members of the Olympia Food Co-op filed a lawsuit to end the Co-op’s boycott of Israeli-made products. In 2012, the trial court dismissed the lawsuit. Today the Washington State Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, stating as follows:

… the nonviolent elements of boycotts are protected by the First Amendment.

dylan powell given thirty days to pay marineland’s court costs

Last week Justice Richard Lococo ordered Dylan Powell, co-founder of Marineland Animal Defense (MAD), to pay Marineland’s court costs related to legal action the theme park brought against Powell in December. The legal action succeeded in limiting MAD’s protest activities, as Lococo imposed new restrictions on MAD in August. Lococo’s August 9 order effectively criminalized leafleting at the Marineland entrance and exit, prevented activists from using megaphones on site, and prohibited signs that included the words “abuse,” “torture,” “criminal,” “animal abuse,” or “arrest John Holer” – the owner of Marineland.

Legal action of this kind, brought by a corporation against an activist or group opposing the corporation, is referred to as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). In this case, Marineland had requested that Lococo order Powell to pay more than $24,000 in fees or costs. In deciding on $10,000 instead, Lococo considered Powell’s lack of wealth.

Powell says he doesn’t have $10,000, so Marineland’s request for court costs may be a pyrrhic victory for the notorious theme park.

judge imposes new restrictions on marineland animal defense in niagara falls, ontario

Marineland Animal Defense is a Niagara Animal Defense League campaign with the goal of ending animal captivity at Marineland, a theme park in the city of Niagara Falls, Ontario. On Friday, a judge imposed new restrictions on the campaign, preventing activists from using megaphones on site or signs that include the words “abuse,” “torture,” “criminal,” “animal abuse,” or “arrest John Holer” – the owner of Marineland. The court order also effectively criminalizes leafleting at the Marineland entrance and exit, because it restrains activists from “hindering or impeding any guest of Marineland or anyone entering or exiting Marineland or indicating an intention to enter Marineland.”

As a result of the court order, Marineland Animal Defense canceled a demonstration set for tonight at the Niagara Falls City Council. But a co-founder of the group, Dylan Powell, has made it clear that the campaign will continue. According to his statement regarding the court order,

We knew from the beginning – way back in 2010 – that if we were effective we would face the weight of the legal system as a result. Marineland Canada has a history of being litigious and using the legal system as a weapon. It is now August 2013 and we still have the right to demonstrate on site and we still have the right to continue to raise awareness about this industry with the goal of [its] abolition.

One of the animals confined at Marineland is Kiska, the only remaining orca whale there, who was captured in the wild at age 3. Orcas, also known as killer whales, are used to living in thousands of miles of ocean in long-term social groups called pods. When held in captivity, these highly-intelligent and highly-socialized mammals suffer physical and mental distress, which apparently drives them to aggressive behavior.

Marineland has exhibited 29 orcas since it opened, but 26 of them have died. Of the remaining 3 orcas, 2 were relocated to SeaWorld. Of the 26 deceased orcas, 5 were Kiska’s children, none of whom lived longer than 6 years. The average lifespan for orcas in the wild is 30 years for males and 50 years for females.

undercover police officer co-wrote leaflet that harmed reputation of mcdonald’s

In the mid-1980s, activists with London Greenpeace (unrelated to Greenpeace) began handing out a leaflet critical of McDonald’s. The corporation hired private investigators to infiltrate the group and sued five activists over the leaflet in 1990. Three of the activists apologized but two took the case to trial, which turned out to be the longest civil trial in English history. The judge ruled that the activists failed to prove all the allegations in the leaflet, but according to today’s Guardian article,

It was a hollow victory for the company; the long-running trial had exposed damaging stories about its business and the quality of the food it was selling to millions of customers around the world. The legal action, taking advantage of Britain’s much-criticised libel laws, was seen as a heavy handed and intimidating way of crushing criticism.

The story resurfaced today because a new book, to be published next week, will reveal the role of an undercover police officer in co-writing the leaflet at issue. The undercover officer, Bob Lambert, posed as an animal rights activist in the 1980s. Like several other undercover officers in the UK between the mid-1980s and 2010, he apparently deceived women into developing long-term sexual relationships with him.

Though already married with two children, Lambert fathered a child with one of the women before disappearing in 1989. The woman didn’t discover he was an undercover officer until last year. She is now one of 11 women who are suing for the trauma they suffered after having intimate relationships with undercover officers.

On a related note, Greenpeace Canada promised yesterday that it wouldn’t be intimidated by a $7 million defamation lawsuit filed by Canada’s largest logging company, Resolute Forest Products. The lawsuit echoes previous lawsuits against activists, such as the McDonald’s lawsuit, TransCanada’s $5 million lawsuit, and EDF Energy’s £5 million lawsuit. One of the 21 environmental activists EDF sued writes that although Resolute thinks the lawsuit will silence Greenpeace, it won’t work.

chamber of commerce withdraws lawsuit against the yes men over spoof press conference

In October 2009, The Yes Men held a spoof press conference in which Andy Bichlbaum impersonated a U.S. Chamber of Commerce representative. The Chamber responded by filing a lawsuit against The Yes Men, which the activists moved to dismiss on First Amendment grounds. Instead of opposing the motion, the Chamber recently abandoned the case. According to today’s post by Corynne McSherry at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which defended The Yes Men,

In the lawsuit, the Chamber had claimed that a 2009 press conference—in which a Yes Man posing as a Chamber of Commerce spokesperson announced the Chamber was reversing its long held position and endorsing climate change legislation—infringed the Chamber’s trademark rights. Before the press conference was even completed, a Chamber of Commerce representative rushed into the room and announced that the Chamber’s position on climate change legislation had not in fact changed. The result: widespread media coverage of the event and the Chamber’s humorless response.

The lawsuit was the only time in 17 years that anyone has sued The Yes Men. Approximately one year after the Chamber of Commerce stunt, The Yes Men partnered with Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch to create a fake version of Chevron’s $80 million ad campaign with the tagline “We Agree.” The media picked up the fake version, which launched first, as real.

university of montréal sues six protesters for damages related to vandalism

On April 21, 2012, approximately 300 protesters forced their way into the University of Montréal and apparently damaged dozens of rooms. This week the University sued six of those protesters for a total of $100,000. Yalda Machouf-Khadir, an anarchist and the daughter of a prominent left-wing politician, is one of the six. According to today’s Winnipeg Free Press article,

The documents claim that Machouf-Khadir grabbed a wooden partition and used it to obstruct the view of campus police. She also allegedly used a black flag to prevent them from filming. The legal documents say the daughter of the Quebec solidaire politician also shoved around the campus cops and tried to remove a camera from one of their hands.

After the April 21 protest, Machouf-Khadir was one of several people rounded up in police raids on the morning of June 7, 2012. She and her partner were charged with crimes allegedly committed at the University on April 12 and at the education minister Line Beauchamp’s offices the following day. Her house was also searched, but the police mostly confiscated anarchist literature and anti-police flyers.

energy company settling lawsuit against activists who occupied power plant

EDF Energy is settling a £5 million lawsuit it filed against 21 environmental activists who occupied one of its gas-fired power plants in October 2012. According to today’s Guardian article,

The activists, part of the No Dash for Gas group fighting against a new generation of gas plants in the UK, had occupied the site of a gas-fired power plant owned by EDF in West Burton, beginning last October. Several remained strapped to a cooling tower at the site for over a week, the longest such occupation in the UK. EDF’s claim against the activists said this action had caused damage in excess of £5m, a figure that included staff and labour costs, delays to the completion of the station, specialist security and lost carbon emission credits.

Like the Tar Sands Blockade’s response to TransCanada’s $5 million lawsuit, the UK activists apparently agreed not to enter multiple sites operated by EDF. (A civil injunction against the activists is already in place and bars them from EDF power stations across the country.) The activists could also be incarcerated for the action, because they pled guilty to trespass charges on February 20 and several of them have previous protest convictions. The Guardian article states that we’ll find out in the next few weeks whether these will be “the first prison sentences for climate change activists in the UK.”

eugene conference includes panels on grand juries and the tar sands blockade

The Public Interest Environmental Law Conference begins on Thursday in Eugene, Oregon. This year’s conference will include panels on the Tar Sands Blockade and what lawyers and activists should know about grand juries. Both panels are timely in light of recent events in Texas, California, and the Northwest.

In Texas, the Tar Sands Blockade recently settled a lawsuit TransCanada filed against activists by agreeing not to trespass or cause damage to Keystone XL property in either Texas or Oklahoma. According to a Tar Sands Blockade statement dated January 28, 2013,

In order to protect the livelihoods and dependents of brave activists like Tammie Carson, who locked herself to a truck carrying Keystone XL pipe, the activists agreed to settle the lawsuit. The corporation will not seek the $5 million in financial damages, and the named defendants and organizations agree to not trespass on Keystone XL property in Texas and Oklahoma or else face additional charges.

The direct action campaign against the pipeline has continued despite this setback.

In California and the Northwest, activists have been subpoenaed to testify before grand juries. The grand jury in California is investigating animal rights activists. In the Northwest, the grand jury was apparently convened to investigate anarchist organizing, and three people are incarcerated for refusing to cooperate. According to today’s CrimethInc. post,

a large number of people have been subpoenaed to a Washington State grand jury intended to map anarchist activity and relationships. Six of these subpoenas have been served; several more subpoenas are known to exist, but have not been successfully served. The government has very little to show for this effort, as all but one of the subpoenaed have refused to cooperate in any way and the entire operation is proving to be a media debacle.

Let’s hope the people attending next week’s panels in Eugene return to their communities better equipped to support these struggles.