Albion Monitor /News
[Editor's note: For more on this story, see Kim Goldberg's column elsewhere in this issue.]

Courts Limit Native Boycott Against Japanese Company

by Stephen Dale

Prohibited from contacting Daishowa's customers and from picketing

(IPS) OTTAWA -- A boycott against the Japanese-owned Daishowa paper products company appears likely to spread internationally in the wake of a Canadian court order that critics denounce as a violation of freedom of speech.

In January, an Ontario court granted the company a temporary injunction against a boycott organized by the Friends of the Lubicon, a group which has since 1991 tried to stop Daishowa from logging on land claimed by the Lubicom Cree of northern Alberta.

The court ruling says that Friends of the Lubicon acted illegally by conducting a "secondary boycott" targeting Daishowa's corporate customers.

But international activists denounce the court ruling as a violation of free speech.

"The current ruling really grants the company everything they were looking for by preventing Friends of the Lubicon from contacting Daishowa's customers and from picketing Daishowa's customers," said Ed Bianchi, member of Friends of the Lubicon and national co-ordinator of the Aboriginal Rights Coalition.

A consortium of environment organizations in the United States and Canada vow boycott and denounce restrictions on the right of activists to pressure corporations

The Friends of the Lubicom are worried that the temporary ruling will make it easier for Daishowa to win a permanent injunction later this year, and that the company would start clear- cut logging without much publicity, since advocates would be tied up in the courts.

The Lubicon Indians have lived without a land claim agreement, even though they were promised reserve land in 1939. Their supporters argue that they have lived in poverty, while multinational oil, gas, and natural resource companies have made huge profits from exploiting the land.

The Ontario divisional court's January ruling overturned a previous judgement allowing the Friends to approach Daishowa's customers. But finding favor of Daishowa's appeal, the court ruled that "picketing and the threat of picketing" was one means by which the Friends injured Daishowa in its economic relations with its customers and "did harm to Daishowa by the unlawful means of misrepresentation and intimidation."

The language of the ruling has infuriated activists in Canada and the United States and increased publicity of the boycott beyond Canada's borders.

In its spring issue, the U.S. publication Boycott Quarterly suspended its policy of not endorsing specific boycotts. An editorial called on readers to "pile on Daishowa. Boycott 'em into bankruptcy. Teach 'em a lesson in free enterprise and free speech that they will never forget."

A consortium of environment organizations in the United States and Canada has issued a press release, vowing to carry on the boycott and denouncing the restriction on the right of activists to pressure corporations.

"We thought Canada was a democratic country, but after seeing first the hardship of the Lubicon and then hearing of this court ruling, we are very concerned," wrote Chris Genovali of the Public Environmental Resources Center in San Francisco, California. "We will be watching this issue very closely."

Asked if Daishowa planned to begin logging on the land claimed by the Lubicon Cree, company spokesman Tom Cochrane said, "I have nothing to say about that. As the company has said, at the present time, they have no plans to log."

Example of a U.S.-originated phenomenon known as the SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation)

Cochrane said the potential impact of the new boycott on its business in the United States is a major concern for the company.

"It's completely unjustified activity, and if they pursue any illegal action in the states, I don't know what we will do," he said. The official speculated, however, that court action in the United States, similar to the January ruling, remains an option for the company, since "a lot of the precedents (for a decision against secondary picketing) are U.S.-based."

Since the boycott was first announced in 1991, 50 Canadian companies have dropped their contracts with Daishowa, which estimates lost business at roughly $6 million.

Many commentators see the lawsuit against the Friends as an example of a U.S.-originated phenomenon known as the SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). Canadian newspaper columnist Michael Valpy, writing in the Globe and Mail newspaper, described SLAPP as "a perversion of justice." He said SLAPPs were "nasty playthings of the rich and powerful" designed to "block citizens from participating in the free political life of their society."

But as the Law Union of Ontario News reported, almost a dozen U.S. states have enacted anti-SLAPP legislation to counter suits which "aim at chilling public participation in the democratic process."

Cochrane said Daishowa was not interested in limiting Canadians' right to boycott, but that it merely objected to the methods used by Friends of the Lubicon. He confirmed that if the company did win a permanent injunction in the fall, it would seek damages from the defendants.

Bianchi argues that another Daishowa court victory would heighten the feeling among Canadian indigenous groups that the courts and political system were against them.

A 1990 United Nations report found that Canada's inability to provide a legal solution for the Lubicon placed the country in violation of international covenants on civil and political rights.

Frustration at the legal and political system recently led to a number of confrontations between indigenous groups and authorities, including last summer's armed occupation of a ranch at Gustafesen Lake in the province of British Columbia.

"I don't think people want to see this kind of thing happen," said Bianchi. "But I think we might see more of it coming out of desperation, because people feel they have no choice."

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Albion Monitor April 15, 1996 (

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