Landmark free speech decision in consumer boycott case

Wednesday, April 15, 1998
Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation -- are brought by corporate interests to silence citizens from speaking out on public issues. The intention is not necessarily to win the case but to force citizen activists into submission with the huge cost and time requirements of mounting a defense, says the CCPJ. In the landmark decision, Mr. Justice MacPherson rejected Daishowa's request for a permanent injunction, stating: "If the great principle of freedom of expression protects a corporation, say Daishowa, whose simple message is: 'Here is why you should buy our products, then is there any reason why the same principle should not protect a small group of consumers of Daishowa products, say the Friends, from saying to fellow consumers: 'Here is why you should not buy Daishowa's products'? In my view, the answer is clear: there is no reason, in logic or in policy, for restraining a consumer boycott." Judge MacPherson did find that the Friends defamed Daishowa by stating that its actions amounted to "genocide", ordered them to pay one dollar and permanently prohibited them from using that word in any future campaigns against Daishowa. "This is an important decision for us and for all Canadians who believe in freedom of expression," said Friend of the Lubicon Kevin Thomas in a press conference following the release of the judgment. Clayton Ruby, who defended the Friends at the initial stage of the proceedings, said at the press conference: "there is an increasing trend by large corporations to file complex cases with large damage claims where they couldn't hope to recover damages. Their objective is to silence. The court struck an important blow today for free speech in Canada." If it had gone the other way, Mr. Ruby said, "it would mean free speech for corporations and a muzzle for everybody elseà. You have to allow ordinary citizens who have no power, who haven't got the money of corporations and their power, some way of talking to other citizens on a one-to-one basis and trying to convince them of the rightness of your cause. If you can't do that, this isn't much of a democracy." Daishowa said it will appeal the decision.

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