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Greenpeace wants Resolute's Ontario lawsuit tossed as 'vexatious' litigation

Last Updated Jun 1, 2017 at 1:20 pm PDT

TORONTO – A forestry company’s multimillion-dollar defamation claim against Greenpeace is a vexatious abuse of the courts, the environmental group says in new Canadian legal filings.

In calling on an Ontario court to dismiss the lawsuit without a hearing on its merits, Greenpeace argues that Montreal-based Resolute Forest Products’ claim is little more than an attempt at gagging a vocal critic.

“The Canadian action seeks millions of dollars in damages while imposing overwhelming litigation costs by way of a strategy of fighting every point, demanding production from every possible witness, and seeking to expand the litigation as broadly as possible,” the motion application states. “The Resolute plaintiffs are also strategically using the existence of two parallel proceedings to finesse or circumvent difficulties encountered in the other jurisdiction.”

In 2013, Resolute filed the $7 million defamation lawsuit in Ontario over a Greenpeace campaign that was critical of the multinational company’s practices in the boreal forests of northern Ontario and Quebec. Among other things, Greenpeace had accused Resolute of destroying the forest.

While the eco-group has apologized for making some false statements related to the destruction of caribou habitat, it argues its campaign concerns “matters of considerable public interest” and therefore should enjoy litigation protection.

The group accuses Resolute of suing in Ontario to avoid Quebec free-speech legislation that might have precluded the action.

In 2016, as the Ontario case dragged on — Greenpeace had some success in limiting its scope — Resolute launched a new $300-million action in the United States under racketeering laws over the same forestry campaign. The U.S. lawsuit essentially seeks to brand Greenpeace as a criminal enterprise.

“The Resolute plaintiffs are also seeking double recovery of damages because both the Canadian action and U.S. action target the same underlying conduct,” the motion application states. “The truthfulness of these statements should not be litigated both in Canada and the U.S. by the same plaintiffs. (They) are calling upon the two courts to make findings of fact that overlap or are identical.”

The motion, to be heard in Superior Court in August in Thunder Bay, Ont., seeks an order striking out the Resolute Ontario lawsuit without giving the company a chance to amend its statement of claim, or seeks either a temporary or permanent stay in light of the American action.

Shane Moffatt, head of Greenpeace Canada’s forest campaign and a defendant in the Ontario case, said Resolute is bent on silencing the organization.

“Resolute is using their massive corporate resources to finance two simultaneous court proceedings which aim to cripple Greenpeace by weighing us down with legal fees and distracting us from the real issues: protecting our boreal forest,” Moffatt said in a statement.

Resolute spokeswoman Carolyn Pinto, who accused Greenpeace of “fake posturing” on the free-speech issue, said the company would oppose the motion.

“Resolute disputes that the U.S. litigation should stop the Ontario litigation, which … began years before the U.S. litigation,” Pinto said in an email.

“Greenpeace has devoted years to a campaign of public misrepresentations about our forestry practices, impersonated employees, initiated cyber-attacks on our customers, and harassed companies we do business with.”

Recently, a judge in Georgia ruled against hearing the American action in the state. Instead, it will now be heard in California.

Greenpeace argues that use of racketeering laws in this case sets a dangerous precedent for other public-interest groups. Both sides have also engaged in extended public relations campaigns aimed at pressing their cases outside of the courtrooms.