VANCOUVER, Feb 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Canadian
forestry giant is using legislation most often deployed against
the mafia to sue Greenpeace over allegations about the firm's
environmental record in the latest legal battle between
campaigners and resource companies.
Launched by Montreal-based Resolute Forest Products
the case will reverberate beyond the United States as it impacts
how defamation and free speech rules are interpreted and how
activist groups can be treated during prosecution.
A judge in the U.S. state of Georgia is weighing a motion by
Greenpeace to dismiss the case and a decision on whether it can
proceed is expected soon, lawyers for both sides said.
Resolute is seeking $300 million from Greenpeace
International, Greenpeace U.S. and other branches of the
environmental organization, along with Stand.earth, another
North American activist group, Greenpeace said in a statement.
"This case is a big deal," Ted Hamilton, a legal researcher
with the Climate Defense Project, a U.S.-based advocacy group
told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
It's one of the few sentiments upon which both sides agree
in litigation launched under the Racketeer Influenced and
Corrupt Organizations Act, normally reserved for illegal
Michael Bowe, an attorney from Kasowitz, Benson, Torres &
Friedman LLP representing Resolute, said Greenpeace leveraged
false and defamatory claims against the company's operations in
Canada's Boreal forest in order to solicit donations.
In its campaign materials, Greenpeace called Resolute a
"forest destroyer" whose activities hurt indigenous people in
Canada, threaten wildlife and contribute to climate change -
claims rejected by the company's lawyers.
"We are being slandered, donors are being misled and no
legitimate environmental cause is being advanced," Bowe told the
Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Resolute says it has planted more than one billion trees in
Canada's Boreal forest and is responsible for virtually no
permanent lost woodland acreage.
"The company cares about the Boreal forest a lot more than
Greenpeace," said Bowe.
Attorneys for Greenpeace International stand behind the
group's "forest destroyer" statements, accusing the Resolute of
trying to intimidate critics and trample free speech.
"This case ... is about the right of advocacy groups to
offer criticisms (of companies) without the threat of crippling
lawsuits," Greenpeace attorney Jasper Teulings told the Thomson
If the company believes that statements by Greenpeace such
as the "forest destroyer" moniker are inaccurate they should sue
under defamation laws, rather than legislation designed to take
down the mafia, Teulings said.
"Our work on forests focuses on exposing and documenting
unsustainable industry practices, in an effort to get
corporations to adopt better methods that protect crucial forest
habitats," said Teulings.
Other large companies, including Asia Pulp & Paper,
Kimberley-Clark and McDonalds have worked with Greenpeace to
improve their sustainability practices following criticism
without resorting to Resolute's "bully tactics", he said.
Resolute said Greenpeace is not the victim in the case as
the campaign group has offices in 41 countries, a 2014 budget of
more than $330 million, and owns multi-million dollar yachts.
Greenpeace was able to raise these funds by spreading
misinformation about Resolute and other firms, the company said,
in a claim strongly denied by the environmental group.
(Reporting by Chris Arsenault @chrisarsenaul, Editing by
Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation,
the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate
change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)