For the past year, Greenpeace has been quietly embroiled in a lawsuit the environmental group says is designed to sue it “out of existence.”
The suit, a $220-million behemoth that’s received little media attention since it was filed in May 2016 in federal court in the southern district of Georgia, was brought by one of the largest forestry and newsprint companies in the world, Canada’s Resolute Forest Products. Greenpeace has been a fierce critic of Resolute’s logging practices in Canada’s sensitive boreal forests. And while the group has regularly been on the receiving end of legal action, this is no trespassing or defamation case. Instead, Resolute has brought a case forward that’s defined as much by its aggressive legal strategy as its apparent intention to punish the eco-group.
In its complaint, the logging giant claims that Greenpeace is an illegal enterprise, a racket designed only to raise money. And, by using a law designed to take down organized criminal enterprises like the mafia, Resolute is aiming to bury the eco group in debt and silence its critic, according to an amicus brief filed in court last fall by several First Amendment groups.
“This is not right,” says Greenpeace spokesman Rodrigo Estrada. “This is a complete attack on free speech.”
Resolute’s suit argues that Greenpeace is in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), an exceptionally powerful law enacted in 1970 to put corrupt entities like the mob out of business. The legal tactic allows Resolute to sue Greenpeace for triple any damages it says the environmental group has caused. So far, Resolute asserts, Greenpeace has cost the company about 100 million Canadian dollars in lost revenue due to its public campaign to label Resolute a “forest destroyer” and convince costumers to drop the company’s paper products.
“RICO is purposely designed to put corrupt organizations—racketeers—out of business,” says James Wheaton, senior counsel at the First Amendment Project, a non-profit group that provides free legal services for defendants in free speech cases. “When you take that blunderbuss and point it at a non-profit, the effect is pretty stunning.”
Tuesday, the court in Georgia agreed to transfer the case to the northern district of California, where many of Greenpeace’s defendants are based. Estrada hailed the decision in a press release as a victory because of the state’s strong free speech laws. And several hours earlier, Greenpeace released a report pushing back against Resolute’s suit and trying to rally allies to its side.
The lawsuit, Greenpeace’s report says, “could impact individuals and groups across civil society that seek to make positive changes by making it too expensive and risky to engage in free speech, advocacy, informed expert opinions, and even research.” Some of Resolute’s most prominent customers, the report notes, are companies that rely on free speech to exist—publishers including Penguin Random House. Several newspapers, like News Corp’s Wall Street Journal, are printed on Resolute’s paper, too. If Greenpeace loses, says Amy Moas, a campaigner and defendant in the suit, “not only could it mean a world without Greenpeace and the 45-year record of a movement to protect the environment, but a world where free speech becomes more restricted for advocacy groups, individuals, artists, journalists, and publishers.”
The lawsuit marks the bitter end of a detente that began in 2010. That year, Greenpeace and several other environmental groups and forestry companies, including Resolute, signed the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. The companies agreed to suspend logging in 29 million hectares of boreal forest to preserve old growth and ensure that the threatened boreal caribou could thrive. In return, Greenpeace and the other environmental groups agreed to drop any boycotts they were promoting against the forestry companies. In Canada, where forestry is big business, environmental groups like Greenpeace had been publicly condemning Resolute and others for logging in sensitive areas for decades. Media reports at the time described it as a landmark “peace agreement” between two warring factions.
Source/More: Outside Online