Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mainstream's cancer

Don Staniford. Photo Anissa Reed

In the lawsuit opposing fish farm giant Mainstream Canada to Don Staniford, a key battle was fought over the issue of cancer. In his cigarette packs campaign, Staniford made several references to cancer, stating for example that "salmon farming is a cancer on the coast".

Mainstream was not amused, and focused the bulk of its attack against Staniford on those cancerous messages. David Wotherspoon, Mainstream's lawyer, partly justified his application for a last-minute injunction against Don Staniford on those grounds, suggesting that equating fish farms to big tobacco caused irreparable damage to the industry's reputation in the eyes of the public as a cancer-inducing machine. As such, he demanded from the judge a particularly harsh remedy: an immediate and permanent injunction, whereby Don Staniford "shall be restrained from publishing any defamatory statement referring in any way to the plaintiff", along with damages of up to one million dollars.


Examined a few days earlier by the lawyers on this matter, Staniford had given the following explanations: "Cancer refers to multiple things. Literally, cancer can refer to the cancer-causing chemicals. We’ve had extensive peer-reviewed evidence on carcinogens in farmed salmon. But also the method of the spread of cancer, the spread of infectious diseases.  ...the analogy would be that cages are like cells – they are like cancer cells at the mouths of rivers. So we need to rip out that cancer.  ...We need to tackle the root causes of the cancer, not just treat the symptoms. So that means removing salmon farms from our coast."

Members of the public who were attending the trial were quick to pick up on this cancer controversy. Not only were Staniford's cancer messages grounded in science, they also carried a strong metaphorical meaning that greatly appealed to them. On the last day of the trial yesterday, as the lawyers were battling over Mainstream’s injunction, a group of Don's supporters gathered at a coffee shop during lunch recess and started writing small hand-held banners. The theme was to include the word "mainstream" in each banner's text. People were being very creative. Some of the banners said: "Has falsifying facts now gone mainstream?" "Since when has ruining livelihoods become mainstream?" "Is freedom of speech no longer mainstream?", etc. You get the idea.

One of the banners read: "Why has cancer become mainstream?"


That slogan was put to immediate use that same day when the trial reconvened after lunch. The courtroom was filled to capacity and overflowing to the point where the judge had to play sheriff for a few minutes, martially telling members of the public to either find themselves a seat or get out of the room. We were all wondering about a lady in black who was sitting in a corner and who appeared more interested in the crowd than in the case itself. She was staring at each of us individually one by one, as if to memorize our faces, sometimes standing up so that she could see us better. I was later told that her name was Nancy Seymour and that she was a lawyer representing Mainstream.

She spent the afternoon checking the Salmon Are Sacred Facebook page, looking at her computer then looking back at the audience, in an apparent attempt to locate people who were posting live on Facebook. Was she trying to put names on faces? But she could have asked us. Or was she compiling a list of people disobeying the judge's order not to use communication devices in court? It didn't seem to bother her, however, that by doing so she was directly violating that order herself.

I was not the only one annoyed by this woman's behavior. As she snooped around, one of Don's friends decided to send her a message by stating aloud in her direction: "Why has cancer become mainstream?" as a way of letting her know that, actually, we were watching her too.

Meanwhile, the Mainstream lawyers were working hard to convince the judge that an unusually draconian injunction was required in the case of Don Staniford. An order such as this one certainly is a strong message, one of the lawyers explained, adding that its main purpose would be to set an example. It would shift the responsibility back onto the defendant, he added. Mainstream was thus demanding that the onus of the proof be put on the defendant rather than the plaintiff - a fundamental violation of a core tenet of the rule of law in this country. With such an injunction in place, all that Mainstream would have to do is sue Don Staniford as soon as he published anything, and then sit back and force him to prove his innocence. Amazingly, the judge listened patiently to that absurd line of argumentation without even flinching, when she really should have laughed the lawyer out of the courtroom.

The judge must have sensed, however, that there was something terribly wrong with this reasoning, because at the end of the day she unexpectedly decided to bail out, announcing that she was reserving her judgement until further notice.


After court, about thirty of us met in a downtown pub. After 20 days of repressed tension inside the courtroom, we let the steam out a little. Beer was flowing freely, we acted silly, told dirty jokes, made fun of each other. Don was obviously one of the centers of attention, being the hero of the day and all, and we took turns in spilling our beer into his and exchanging not-so-profound thoughts with him. 

For whatever reason, at that moment I remembered my first encounter with Don. It was about a couple years ago, on a sunny day at Jericho Beach during a wild salmon rally. I had known the virtual Don for some time already through our facebooks and had become a great admirer of his work as an organizer while he was still working in Europe. I introduced myself. You're Ivan! I love your blog, he said. I remember standing on that beach beaming and thinking - wow, the guy actually reads my blog. And we started chatting about salmon, rugby and people we both knew, as if we had been old acquaintances. It was instant friendship.

It struck me then, as it does now, how incredibly approachable Don is - making himself available to everyone in all circumstances, including in times of intense personal stress. Even though he is clearly cut out of a different cloth than the rest of us and has a vision, focus and drive in this campaign that we can only guess, last night at the pub Don simply blended in. An outsider would not have guessed in whose honor this pub party was being thrown. Don-the-hero was just another guy. Your friendly neighbor spiderman, who has just saved the world but doesn't even stop to give it a second thought. And that characteristic is critical in understanding the resilience of our movement, and why corporations such as Mainstream cannot root us out no matter how hard they try.

Because last night at the pub, Don was only one half of the story. The other half was all those new faces that I was staring at and whose names I couldn't even register yet. Where did all these people come from? People that we did not see around only a couple months ago, yet people who had showed up religiously at Don's 20-day long trial. The funny thing was that already, even though I was still struggling to memorize the names, I was finding it hard to remember who was "new" and who wasn't in that bunch. Such is the power of that formidable melting pot, alcohol intoxication. And such, too, is the culture of this group. Just like Don, those new faces had simply blended in and were being silly with the rest of us, sometimes sillier. Because you see, there is no such notion as seniority in this movement. Whether you've been around for five years or a week does not matter a bit, you're part of the family as long as you keep showing up. 

All those new faces are Mainstream's gift to the cause, the industry's contribution to building our movement. That’s what they have achieved by suing Don. Nancy Seymour, the woman-in-black in charge of maintaining our inventory in the courtroom, is going to be busy in weeks and months to come, as we keep discovering new faces every time we gather.

In two weeks time, we lose Don as he gets deported to Europe. This was a carefully orchestrated move by the government of Canada, made to coincide with the opening of Don's trial, a way of indicating without any possible doubt the political motivation of this act. My heart aches at that thought. But we are gaining new friends every day. Mainstream may think they have cut off one of our movement's heads by getting Don on a plane. But every time they cut off a head, seven regrow in its place. So keep cutting, gentlemen.

It may be true, as our friend told Nancy Seymour in the courtroom, that cancer has gone mainstream. But we have also become Mainstream's own cancer. We have metastasized. More of us appear from nowhere every day, and the people sent to monitor us are clueless about how to contain our cancerous growth. They thought they were being smart by sending Don out of the country. Instead, they are opening a new beach head by handing him on a golden plate his next career opportunity in Norway. Indeed, days after his deportation order was announced, Norway's Green Warriors (the bad-ass equivalent of our own Sea Shepherds) called Don to offer him a job!

I'm heartbroken to lose my friend, but by God! am I excited about the prospects offered by Don's relocation to Europe. Global salmon farming coordinator for Green Warriors of Norway, in a paid salaried position nonetheless? Just imagine the results he will achieve there, with the knowledge, network, and experience he has accumulated here in B.C.

From the shores of Norway, Don is going to coordinate us, give us the big picture, grow us into a truly global movement. Gonna miss you, Don. But I'm so looking forward to working with you.