TORONTO (From the Montreal Gazette) -- A forestry multinational that is suing Greenpeace under American racketeering laws alleges that the activist organization's recent court filings are essentially an admission that it lies, a claim the group forcefully denies.
The new public relations offensive by Montreal-based Resolute Forest Products focuses on free-speech arguments Greenpeace has advanced as it seeks to have a $300-million lawsuit tossed without a hearing on its merits.
"This is the most significant development in the four-plus years of this saga," Resolute vice-president Seth Kursman told The Canadian Press. "Greenpeace has admitted that they were lying about our forestry practices. Their campaign has been peddling falsehoods."
In its fight to stop the company's lawsuit in Georgia, Greenpeace argues in a recent court filing that its criticism of Resolute's logging practices in Canada's boreal forests should be viewed through the prism of free speech rather than taken literally.
RFP has deliberately ignored the context and tried to take the criticism as "absolute" statements of scientific fact rather than as advocacy, Greenpeace argues.
"Speakers who engage in protected expression on matters of public controversy -- like Greenpeace here -- often use forceful language to make their point," Greenpeace states.
"They do not hew to strict literalisms or scientific precision, but regularly use words 'in a loose, figurative sense' to express 'strong disagreement' ... and attack their intellectual opponents through 'rhetorical hyperbole'."
Tom Wetterer, Greenpeace general counsel in the U.S., said in an interview from Oregon on Monday that Resolute's "lying" claim was "absolutely not true."
In a years-long campaign, Greenpeace publicly accused Resolute of unsustainable logging in northern Ontario and Quebec that threatens endangered and other wildlife, contributes to climate change, and ignores indigenous peoples.
The company, which is also suing Greenpeace for $7 million for defamation in Ontario, filed its Georgia lawsuit under racketeering laws enacted to deal with organized crime that allow for triple damages. Among other things, Resolute alleges Greenpeace is a "global fraud" whose campaigns are based on "sensational misinformation" aimed at getting people to donate money for its own benefit.
Kursman called Greenpeace's tactics part of a "cycle of abuse" that relies on a lack of scientific grounding while making claims as a way to solicit donations.
"Greenpeace has drifted away from legitimate environmental work to schemes for generating donations," Kursman said in an email. "Real people lost their jobs, communities have suffered, real families have experienced hardship ... a stark reminder of the damage that this 'rhetorical hyperbole' has caused."
Greenpeace, which has denounced the lawsuit as an intimidation tactic that could set a dangerous precedent for public-interest advocacy, wants the claim struck as an attempt to stifle its free-speech rights and silence critics of Resolute's logging practices.
Wetterer said the group's statements such as Resolute is a "forest destroyer" are based on sound science. Wetterer accused the company of making "absurd" arguments that destruction in this context should refer to an entire forest.
"The forest is more than just trees," Wetterer said. "It's an entire ecosystem of fauna and wildlife that is highly susceptible to unsustainable logging practices."
Shane Moffatt, with Greenpeace Canada, also accused Resolute of taking the organization's legal arguments out of context, saying the group stands by its claims.
"They are based on the best available science, including federal government science," Moffatt said in a statement. "Independent auditors have furthermore documented shortcomings related to these and other issues that resulted in the loss of a number of RFP's forest stewardship council certifications for responsible forestry."
Resolute's lawsuit in U.S. District Court for Southern Georgia under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act -- known as RICO -- names Greenpeace, the group Stand.earth, and five staff members of the organizations.
In a recent article for the Conservative publication National Review Online, Resolute CEO Richard Garneau portrayed his company as a champion standing up to a dangerous bully.
"Greenpeace is marauding not just our company but a way of life," Garneau wrote. "That's why union leaders, small-business people, First Nations chiefs, and mayors and other government officials, of all political stripes, have written Greenpeace, imploring it to halt its campaign of misinformation."