Environmental group exonerated in defamation suit

An environmental group critical of the controversial New Prosperity Mine Project was exonerated of any wrongdoing in a defamation lawsuit.

An environmental group critical of the controversial New Prosperity Mine Project was exonerated of any wrongdoing in a defamation lawsuit.

In his written decision released Monday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Gordon Funt criticized Taseko Mines Ltd. and said the company should not have pursued its defamation suit against the Wilderness Committee once the expert panel released its report on the New Prosperity Mine.

“The panel report shows that reasonable individuals with particular expertise could conclude that New Prosperity would result in significant adverse environmental effects,” Justice Gordon Funt said of the four-year battle.

“To continue to seek punitive damages and special costs after the release of the panel’s report attracts the Court’s rebuke.”

Funt went on to say Taseko’s seeking of punitive damages was an economic threat to the outspoken environmental group.

“In the context of a defamation action, seeking punitive damages may serve to silence critics,” Funt noted. “Further, Taseko was signifying that the defendants were walking the border of criminal law.”

Funt awarded the Wilderness Committee court costs as well as extra costs incurred as a result of the lawsuit.

The Wilderness Committee’s national policy director Gwen Barlee told the Tribune Tuesday they always felt they had a strong case.

“We want people to be able to speak to projects, engage in debate and make comment on projects like this,” Barlee said.

Taseko’s vice-president of corporate affairs Brian Battison said Tuesday the company is disappointed with the ruling.

“We’re studying the judgement and looking at its merits,” Battison said, noting Taseko is giving careful consideration to an appeal and for that reason would not make any further comments.

Barlee said the Wilderness Committee is calling on the provincial government to enact anti strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) legislation similar to the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

“We had it for a short time in 2001,” she said of anti-SLAPP legislation. “We don’t want to chill public discussion on projects that need lots of discussion. The Taseko project was one of those projects.”