86600_139625The following guest blog post comes to you via our friends at Greenpeace:

On 23 May, Greenpeace was served a $7 million lawsuit by logging giant Resolute Forest Products. We believe this is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). This type of lawsuit burdens Greenpeace with massive legal costs and discourages other environmentalists from talking about what’s happening in the forest. But we aren’t alone facing this type of intimidation tactic used by big corporations to quash public debate.  Dylan Powell of Marineland Animal Defense is currently facing a $1.5 million SLAPP, launched when he decided to shine a light on Marineland’s operations. With Ontario MPPs back in the House and with promising anti-SLAPP legislation (Bill 83) on the table, now is the time for all political parties to support strong legislation that protects Ontarians’ rights to free speech and public participation. Dylan shares his story:

My experience with Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) is different than some in that I knew, for at least two years prior to the suit being filed, that I was going to be sued.

To tell the story of the SLAPP suit filed against myself and Marineland Animal Defense, I would have to start with a previous SLAPP suit filed by Marineland Canada in 2004 against the advocacy group Niagara Action for Animals and organizers Catherine Ens and Dan Wilson. That suit, a $250 000 libel claim, revolved around a year old letter the organization had written to a company educating them on the captive animal facility and urging them to take their company picnics elsewhere. For two years they organized against that suit and finally Marineland Canada dropped it.

In the aftermath however, the organization split down the middle over how to respond. Some had burned out; others were afraid to go back and demonstrate against the park, and those who wanted to escalate pressure were in the minority and eventually gave up. Although the suit brought the organizers media coverage and would be a stain on the reputation of the park – a high point was David Suzuki coming to the area to give a fundraiser speech for the sued activists calling Marineland “thugs” – from the years of 2006 to 2009 there was a marked decrease in any organizing or pressure on the park. Larger non-profits who had made the park a focus walked away as well as the grassroots organizers who had built up pressure. The strategy was a partial success for Marineland. It bought them time.

When I became active in this community in Niagara and began to organize protests against the park in 2009, I did so with heavy caution from more seasoned activists in the community.

When myself and others founded Marineland Animal Defense in 2011 – the first ever dedicated campaign against the park – we knew that if we were successful Marineland would attempt this strategy again.

When the call finally came on 21 December, 2012, I was in Ottawa for a large Idle No More rally. I was cold and soaking wet and had just ducked into a coffee shop to warm up. The previous day The Toronto Star had broke a story that Marineland was burying animals on site in mass graves without any permits from the Ministry of the Environment. Stuck with few options to respond – a $1.5 million claim was filed against me, thus changing the media focus from mass animal graves to a mass lawsuit.

In total now, Marineland Canada has filed six lawsuits over the period of December 2012 to June 2013. Those suits center on former employees who have come forward with testimony against the park, the Toronto Star who printed that testimony, and activists who have educated the public about that testimony and more. Damages claimed in total stretch beyond $12 million.

Corporations who know they have this card to play will continue to play it, unrestrained, until new legislation is introduced. They will take the risk of bad publicity as they know it will buy them time and potentially trigger an internal collapse of their opposition.

I sincerely hope anti-SLAPP legislation is finally passed this fall so that this cycle will end. Years from now I do not want to be stuck cautioning new animal advocates in my community about the dangers of exposing the inner workings of captive animal facilities like Marineland Canada.

Join the sit-in this Monday, October 26!

Update: Monday Sept 26 – over 180 people were arrested for trespassing on Parliament Hill this morning including Maude Barlow, national chairperson at the Council of Canadians, Dave Coles, President of the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers union and CEP Executive Assistant, Fred Wilson, Graham Saul of Climate Action Network and Mikisew Cree George Poitras. Check here for photos: CEP’s flickr photostream and Council of Canadians photostream
Thank you everyone!

On Monday, Sept 26 hundreds will gather in Canada’s capital, Ottawa, to protest the building of the Keystone XL pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.

On the heels of the massive Tar Sands Action at the White House at the end of August, the invitation to mirror the DC action was issued by the Council of Canadians, Greenpeace Canada and the Indigenous Environment Network with a long list of expert, celebrity, organization and activist endorsements. While we in the US work to show President Obama that he has the support to stand up to the oil and gas industry and say no to the pipeline (he’s scheduled to approve the application this year), our Canadian and First Nations friends will be pressuring Prime Minister Harper to stop this massive increase in tar sands exploitation.

In August, I posted a blog with a link to a short film I helped put together called The Oil Up There. It’s worth encouraging you and others to watch it again – and remind ourselves why an expansion of the tar sands is a disaster for both people and the planet.

Daily from August 20 – September 3, hundreds of people joined the Tar Sands Action in Washington DC, where more than 1200 people were arrested at the White House in what is being called the largest act of civil disobedience in defense of the environment in US history.

The DC days of action were colourful and moving and folks from all across the continent stepped up. It’s been noted that a photo of the arrest of NASA scientist James Hansen sums up the dire and immediate situation if Keystone XL goes ahead. In 1988 he testified on climate change to congressional committees about global warming and the need to take action to limit climate change. Twenty-three years later that message needs to be heard louder than ever.

This week the Canadian Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) held a briefing with Members of Parliament, calling for a reversal of the Keystone XL permit and raised questions about the apparently expired certificate approval held by TransCanada Keystone Pipeline CP Ltd, and whether President Obama thus has the ability to approve an international pipeline with an expired certificate and required National Energy Board (NEB) approval. In a letter to the NEB dated September 23, they note:

Condition #22 to that Certificate stipulated that:
Unless the Board otherwise directs prior to 11 March 2011, this Certificate shall expire on 11 March 2011 unless construction in respect of the Project has commenced by that date.
Our understanding is that the Board made no direction prior to March 11, 2011, and that no construction in respect of the Project had commenced by that date. Accordingly, OC-56 expired on March 11, 2011, and there is no current approval that would allow TCPL to proceed further with the Keystone XL pipeline.

Stay tuned.

To my friends in Canada, I wish I could be there with you on Monday, and thank you/meegwetch!

For those of you in Canada, visit the Ottawa Tar Sands Action web page to find out how you can get involved. Read Council of Canadians campaigner, Andrea Harden-Donahue’s, thoughts before the protest, here.

 In the U.S., the actions against the Tar Sands have not slowed. According to 350.org, the State Department is holding a number of public hearings on the proposed pipeline, and community members are being asked to attend the meetings and testify.

Get involved from wherever you are and STOP KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE.