Mining giants bury Canadian critics with lawsuits

Canadian academics and free speech advocates are up in arms over two mining multinationals' use of libel law to bury their critics in lawsuits. Alain Deneault, Delphine Abadie, and William Sacher published a book called Noir Canada. Pillage, corruption et criminalité en Afrique that detailed well-sourced human rights abuses by the multinational resource companies Barrick Gold and Banro Corporation. The companies have responded with $11 million in lawsuits, aimed at bankrupting their critics with court fees. Barrick Gold has threatened other publishers on the basis of brief summaries of yet-to-be-published critical books.
These clear threats against academic freedom of expression and freedom of speech are cause for serious concern and the Free Speech at Risk site aims to bring attention to these cases and open up the public debate over the issue. Authors and academics should not have to fear legal action for simply asking questions based on material and reports that are already in the public domain.

This site was started by Professor Michel Seymour from the Université de Montréal, along with author Alain Deneault, and Anne-Marie Voisard of Écosociété. Several organizations have also pledged their support. If you are an academic professor, please consider signing our Academic Petition and concerned Canadians can also consider signing our Citizen Petition.

Free Speech at Risk (Thanks, Dad!)


  1. This is commonly referred to as a SLAPP lawsuit (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation). I’ve mostly heard about them being used by property developers to stop community groups from opposing projects, but I guess you can shut nearly anyone up if you can pay the lawyers.

    My understanding is that people are thinking of options to stop this kind of thing, but it’s actually pretty hard to do. Crafting a law that weeds out these sorts of strategic lawsuits without stopping legitimate ones is challenging. Still, I hope to see some legal changes around this in the next few years (the law is slow).

    1. Right, but too few jurisdictions have anti-SLAPP statutes that forbid lawsuits filed to win not on merits but to force opponents into giving in based on costs. And unfortunately, it’s the multinational corporations that can go forum-shopping to find jurisdictions without anti-SLAPP laws.

  2. SLAPP lawsuit is the end of regular (i.e. book, TV, newpaper) honest information on corporate.
    10 years of lawsuits has destroyed the journalist Denis Robert who exposed the Clearstream scandal in Europe, and muzzled its documentaries and books.
    in french
    Even if you win, you end up broken and your career is over.
    True info is now only from “Anonymous” hackers on Internet.

  3. This is typical of Barrick.

    U.K. libel suit nearly silences investigative report, even in U.S.

    [In 2001] a Canadian firm managed to use British law to shut down part of a U.S.-based website. The suit, which pitted Barrick Gold and Goldstrike Mines against Guardian Newspapers UK, was brought over “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy,” a Nov. 26, 2000 column by Greg Palast which appeared in the Guardian’s Sunday publication, the Observer. In it, Palast looked at the links between several corporations and the Bush family.

    Palast pointed out:

    In the final days of the Bush (Senior) administration, the Interior Department made an extraordinary but little noticed change in procedures under the 1872 Mining Law, the gold rush–era act that permitted those whiskered small-time prospectors with their tin pans and mules to stake claims on their tiny plots. The department initiated an expedited procedure for mining companies that allowed Barrick to swiftly lay claim to the largest gold find in America. In the terminology of the law, Barrick could “perfect its patent” on the estimated $10 billion in ore—for which Barrick paid the U.S. Treasury a little under $10,000…

    Barrick saved—and the U.S. taxpayer lost—a cool billion or so. Upon taking office, Bill Clinton’s new interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt, called Barrick’s claim the “biggest gold heist since the days of Butch Cassidy.” Nevertheless, because the company followed the fast-track process laid out for them under Bush, this corporate Goldfinger had Babbitt by the legal nuggets. Clinton had no choice but to give them the gold mine while the public got the shaft.

    Barrick sued to silence Palast and have the article removed from the Observer. So this is their typical use of libel law to bury their critics. It’s worked for them in the past. This time they don’t have the law on their side so will beat the journalist to death with money.

  4. Well I can’t see how they can prevent you from publishing. Some houses might be skittish of this sort of thing, but that is ultimately their decision. If they don’t want important journalism then that is there loss. If you are critical of some mega corporation I think it goes without saying that you should be prepared for litigation. Yes it could take years, yes it could take a long time. However if it is libel they are suing you about then they have to prove it. If you have done a good job, you will have all your sources ready. If you don’t want to give out you sources, you may be in a bit of a bind. So if I was a publisher, and you wrote a piece about some big corporation and how evil they are, but refuse to give sources, then ya, I might not publish you either. As much as you have a legal right to freedom of expression and all that, others have legal rights as well that have to be respected. That is where the court comes in.

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