CAUT/ACPPU Bulletin Online
Court orders payment in mining company’s lawsuit against authors.
A Quebec court has ruled that Barrick Gold Corporation must pay three authors for its conduct in a defamation suit on a book criticizing Canadian mining practices in Africa.
The decision in this significant freedom of expression case under Quebec’s new anti-Slapp measures represents a victory for the authors of Noir Canada: Pillage, corruption et criminalité en Afrique and their French publisher, Éditions Écosociété, who were sued for $6 million by mining giant Barrick Gold.
On August 12, 2011, the Quebec Superior Court ruled that “Barrick seems to be trying to intimidate authors” and that such conduct was “apparently abusive.”
The actions that led to the court’s conclusion include: Barrick’s threatening a lawsuit prior to having read the book; seeking $6 million in damages (far above the $25,000 previously awarded); and, requests for lengthy pre-trial examinations.
Another goldmining company, Banro Corporation, has also sued the authors and publisher for $5 million, claiming defamation.
Quebec is the first jurisdiction in Canada to enact anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) legislation, intended to enable defendants who believe they are being sued for speaking out or petitioning on a public matter to seek to have the suit dismissed.
SLAPPs are legal action, usually meritless defamation suits, launched against individuals or groups in order to stifle criticism. Anti-SLAPP law is meant to prevent improper legal proceedings that may be excessive, frivolous or vexatious, in their attempts to restrict freedom of expression.
Pierre Noreau, a law professor at the Centre de recherche en droit public at Université de Montréal, considers it good news the legislation has been taken seriously by the court, underlying the necessity of defendants having the means to provide a proper defense.
“Not only is this a case about Barrick, Écosociété, and the authors, but it is also about freedom of expression and an intellectual’s right to write and to construct an argument publicly,” says Noreau. “Academics must have the ability to develop interpretation as part of intellectual debate.”
Noir Canada, published in French, has not appeared on bookshelves in English because of similar defamation threats faced by Vancouver-based publisher Talonbooks.
Critics of censorship say the case raises concerns about Barrick’s alleged efforts to control information and results of research about the mining industry and the consequences of the conduct of those industries around the world. Barrick has faced frequent allegations of international human rights and environmental abuses.
Members of the University of Toronto community have publicly protested a multi-million dollar donation from Barrick Gold founder and chairman Peter Munk for the establishment of the Munk School for Global Affairs, pointing to the “libel chill” as one of the ways the funding arrangement affects academic freedom.