Re: Mainstream Canada vs Don Staniford
The court proceedings in this defamation lawsuit brought from a salmon aquaculture company against an environmental activist is a rich study in the cross-purposes and confusions resulting from demanding literal meanings from non-literal (figurative) language.
“The law is a profession of words.”
David Mellinkoff, The Language of the Law
“Lawyers use the law as shoemakers use leather: rubbing it, pressing it, and stretching it with their teeth, all to the end of making it fit for their purposes.”
To demand literal meanings from figurative comparisons is an exercise in confusion: the similarities we understand of lawyers and shoemakers here are communicated non-literally, and we would not normally compare these two callings.
To get to the heart of the matter, Mainstream is claiming that Mr. Staniford’s comparison of the salmon aquaculture industry with the tobacco industry is “the worst of the worst” of possible comparisons, and hence malicious and defamatory. Mainstream has developed its case by interpreting literal meanings for Mr. Staniford’s clichés (“Salmon farming kills like smoking”), determining that “in their natural and ordinary meaning” Mr. Staniford is saying “Mainstream’s business and products kill people” and “Mainstream’s products are unsafe for human consumption”[i]. On the contrary, such figurative comparisons of two unlike things (lawyers & shoemakers; “John’s a diamond in the rough”; “I slept like a log”), known as similes and metaphors, are “in their natural and ordinary meaning” understood as communicating indirect rather than direct meanings. There’s not an English class in the country that would accept a student’s understanding of the simile “Salmon farming kills like smoking” to be “eating farmed salmon can kill you like smoking”: a definite failure to comprehend metaphorical language, but this is exactly how Mainstream is defining its “sting”.
If Mainstream’s lawyers wanted factual evidence for how salmon farming kills, they need look no further than the benthic (sea floor) toxic contamination at the former Centre Cove salmon farm site[ii] (among others), or the shooting of 1000’s of predatory “nuisance animals” (seals and sea lions)[iii], or the shedding of 60 billion viral particles per farm per hour[iv] during a Mass Mortality event such as the IHN outbreaks in 1992, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2003[v]. Or, they might want to question the steep 18-year decline in the Fraser River sockeye population that has experienced an unprecedented 50% and 90% death rate before spawning (called en route & pre-spawn mortality)[vi]. These conditions are what brought about the federal Cohen Inquiry into the alarming decline of our wild salmon runs, a decline that coincides with the arrival of the salmon farms and their spate of diseases. But because the fox is guarding the proverbial fish-net-pens, disease testing of farmed salmon is still predominantly voluntary & confidential. The farms have not yet submitted samples for genetic testing of ISA & other diseases as promised during the Cohen Commission. Why not? If facts are everything, why not these facts? There is no way agricultural farms can refuse disclosure of the daily specific causes of mortalities on their specific farms as the fish farming industry is exempt from doing. The BC salmon feedlot industry is culpable here, not Mr. Staniford.
But no, these are distinctly NOT the facts Mainstream lawyers are interested in for the sake of determining as defamatory (or “fair comment”) Mr. Staniford’s loud-hailer calls to bring public attention to the prospect of losing the wild Pacific salmon fishery just as the east coast lost the cod fishery due to inaction. No, Mainstream lawyers want to squeeze literal facts from non-literal comparisons to construe harm to their reputation. A second basis they claim for the sting is the metaphor “Salmon farms are cancer”: stating directly that one thing is another forces the reader to consider shared characteristics. How are salmon farms like cancer? Both spread, one through a physical body, the other through ocean environments, both uncontrollably. The fish farm industry is composed of corporations that must grow to serve shareholders, not growing is not an option. Dedicated to relentless growth, and causing harm to the environment, they are like a relentless harmful disease, call it what you will.
Fallacious reasoning serves to straightjacket the defense. What are deemed Mr. Staniford’s defamatory statements are broad generalities about the aquaculture industry worldwide, but Mainstream has chosen to identify itself as the central target of those statements even though Mr. Staniford has not singled out the company specifically. For a company to argue that broad generalizations about an industry are specifically targeted at their company constitutes a logical fallacy of generalization, specifically the fallacy of division where someone forms a conclusion from a true aspect of a thing assuming the true aspect also applies to all or some of its individuals or parts. http://logical-critical-thinking.com/logical-fallacy/fallacy-of-division/ . As example: “This is a research library, so all its librarians must be involved in research”, or “This industry is destructive, so all the companies in the industry are destructive.” The opposite of the fallacy of division is the fallacy of composition, which argues that what is true of a part is true of the whole. To ignore or deny or exclude the defendant’s general meaning is to change the defendant’s meaning. To argue that a general meaning is a specific meaning is to make nonsense of language.
The plaintiff’s pivotal arguments that the “sting” of Staniford’s words arises from his comparing salmon farming to cancer needs to be understood for its figurative meaning as much as for its literal meaning. The plaintiffs are taking great exception to Staniford’s use of the word cancer due to its strong emotional meanings, but it is necessary to acknowledge how this word has come into common use in our culture for its figurative meanings in song, journalism, and political speech. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality...”
or Simon & Garfunkel’s song The Sound of Silence:
“People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening… Silence like a cancer grows… Hear my words that I might teach you… But my words like silent raindrops fell, And echoed in the wells of silence”.
Even the human race has been compared to a cancer on the earth: “We humans were so privileged to be born on this amazing and very beautiful blue planet, so full of life, so full of magic and sustainable possibilities. We got the ‘full packaged’ (sic) delivered right in our hands by Mother Earth. But sadly the human race are (sic) developing into ‘some kind of cancer’ on this planet, ‘eating up’ every resource on earth, which can be transformed into a quick profit. With no empathy for anything around us at all, we kill, we destroy and we are just so controlled by greed.’ Mark Wengler, fisherman & author Facebook Page
A literal basis for “salmon farming is cancer” is the fact that a salmon cancer exists in our Pacific waters variously called Marine Anemia or Plasmacytoid Leukemia. Numerous papers have been written on this fish farm disease, a recent concern from DFO’s cutting-edge head of molecular genetics Kristi Miller who published last January in the prestigious journal Science her Genomic Signatures Predict Migration and Spawning Failure in Wild Canadian Salmon. Her research submitted to the Cohen Commission, Epidemic of a Novel, Cancer causing Viral Disease may be Associated with Wild Salmon declines in BC (Oct.7, 2009, Exhibit 1523) details a genomic profile that suggestsPlasmacytoid Leukemia. The exact nature of what viral condition is killing our wild salmon in alarming numbers before they spawn has yet to be conclusively demonstrated, but we are well on our way to sequencing it. One major holdup in the process is the salmon aquaculture industry’s not submitting their fish for sequencing. It is ironic that it is a fish farm company that is suing a common citizen who has kept abreast of the research, followed the science, and feels an imperative to alert us to the dangers at hand.
In conclusion, the “worst of the worst” comparisons of the salmon feedlot industry with the tobacco industry, along with other likenesses (witness the denial strategies, the avoidance of scientific disclosure, the history of claims of no harm from lice or disease or escaped Atlantics) must be considered “fair comment” on the circumstances we face, and do not constitute injurious harm to any specific salmon farmer or salmon farming company. The plaintiff’s construction of a “sting” has relied on excluding extensive literal evidence while insisting on misinterpreting or confusing figurative language meanings for literal meanings.
[i] Amended Notice of Civil Claim, Mainstream Canada vs Don Staniford 22. a & c
[ii]Toxic contamination will linger at Island salmon farm site, government finds originally in the Vancouver Sun at toxic%20contamination%20will%20linger%20sun, now available athttp://www.pacificwild.org/site/related_news/1252467988.html
[iii] DFO Public Reporting on Aquaculture in the Pacific Region - Marine Mammal Interactionshttp://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/aquaculture/reporting-rapports/mar_mamm-eng.htm (recent only).
[iv] Ex. 1529, Garver, “Risks of IHNV dispersion associated with aquaculture” pg 8
[v] Ministry of Agriculture http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/ahc/fish_health/IHNV.htm
[vi] Lapointe, 2003, presentation 2003 Georgia Basin/Puget Sound Research Conference, pg 3
Note: Footnotes incomplete: further reference to be updated, available upon request
Note: Footnotes incomplete: further reference to be updated, available upon request