Marine Harvest obtains court injunction against Alexandra Morton and Indigenous fish-farm protesters

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      A Norwegian-owned aquaculture giant has persuaded a B.C. Supreme Court judge to grant an order prohibiting protesters from staging occupations at its facilities.

      Justice Peter Voith ruled shortly before Christmas that Marine Harvest Canada would "suffer irreparable harm if an injunction is not granted".

      The judge also declared in his written decision that the "balance of convenience"—another legal justification for obtaining an injunction—"so strongly favours Marine Harvest that the importance of showing irreparable harm is diminished".

      The defendants in the case are high-profile biologist and aquaculture critic Alexandra Morton, hereditary chief Ernest Alfred, First Nations activists Sherry Janine, Molina Dawson, and Karissa Glendale, and unnamed defendants.

      Last month, the court ordered protesters from the Musgamagw Dzawada'enuxw and 'Namgis First Nations to shut down a campsite at a Marine Harvest fish farm southeast of Port McNeill.

      This came in advance of arguments being presented in court over a permanent injunction.

      Voith's ruling described Marine Harvest as "a significant company that has more than 570 employees in various positions at its various operations".

      "It is relevant that Marine Harvest operations are located within the traditional territories of 24 First Nations," Voith wrote. "The company has confidential agreements with a number of these Nations, and with First Nations-owned businesses.

      "These agreements provide benefits to First Nations and their members, including employment priority for First Nations' members, First Nation-specific scholarships, direct contracting opportunities for First Nation businesses, and information-sharing and environmental monitoring commitments by Marine Harvest," the judge continued. "A significant number of the Company's employees are of First Nations background."

      Marine Harvest's website states that one-fifth of its workforce is of Aboriginal descent.

      In early September, however, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde, issued a statement expressing support of those who stage protests against the fish-farming industry.

      "First Nations have long identified the threat of the fish farm industry to wild salmon that have sustained our peoples for generations," Bellegarde said at the time.

      Marine Harvest produces Atlantic salmon in open-net underwater pens, which are licensed by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources and by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

      Demonstrators began occupying the company's Swanson Island site on August 24, later erecting tents and a wood structure on the walkways, according to the ruling.

      This came after a massive escape of Atlantic salmon from a Cook Aquaculture fish farm southwest of Bellingham.

      On August 31, other demonstrators set up tents on the walkways at Marine Harvest's Wicklow Point fish farm. According to the ruling, they left a week later and returned on October 5.

      The company's Midsummer fish-farming operation south of Port McNeil was occupied beginning on September 4.

      "Once again tents and other structures, which I will describe more fully shortly, were constructed on the walkways of the Midsummer site," Voith wrote. "The Midsummer facility was 'occupied' until November 17, 2017."

      Tents were also erected at the company's Port Elizabeth site on October 15.

      The judge stated that from now until spring, these facilities can experience one or two storms a week. He wrote that winds sometimes reach 100 kilometres per hour and ocean swells rise up to three metres.

      The company alleged that in these conditions protesters do not have "adequate protective equipment" and that their structures could be unsafe.

      Then the judge moved to the conduct of unnamed demonstrators.

      "Some of the occupiers have engaged in threatening behaviour towards Marine Harvest’s staff," Voith wrote. "The Plaintiff has been advised by a number of its staff that they are concerned for their personal safety and that they and their families are being targeted in their home communities."

      According to the ruling, this has led Marine Harvest to hire a security firm and post guards at various sites.

      "The Plaintiff has repeatedly been advised by various occupiers that they would prevent Marine Harvest from restocking their pens with new smolts, which are juvenile salmon," Voith stated. "Such restocking is essential to the business of the Plaintiff."

      Two of the named defendants, Glendale and Dawson, argued that they were exercising their aboriginal right to govern under the authority of hereditary leadership.

      Voith, however, stated that the evidence "does not suggest that their purpose has been to 'monitor' or oversee the activities of Marine Harvest".

      "They have both in the past and recently delivered 'eviction notices' to Marine Harvest," the judge wrote. "They have also expressed an intention to continue with these activities though they say they wish to do so peacefully. Respectfully, none of this is consistent with a desire to 'monitor'."

      Morton, who is B.C.'s best-known critic of fish farming, was only mentioned briefly in the ruling.

      "On October 15, 2017 two named Defendants, Ms. Morton and Mr. Alfred appeared at the Port Elizabeth site in a boat during the period when smolts were being offloaded from a vessel," Voith wrote. "The RCMP intercepted them on a walkway perhaps fifty feet from where the vessel was offloading fish into a pen. The exchanges that are described in the materials, particularly on the part of Mr. Alfred, are antagonistic and threatening."

      The only other time Morton's name appeared in the decision was in this paragraph:

      "Counsel for Ms. Morton advised me that in the Response to Civil Claim that was filed on her behalf, the ability to maintain an action in trespass on the basis of a Licence of Occupation has been put in issue and he urged me not to make any determination that might affect that issue. I have not done so. I have, instead, said that the issue, at this stage, is whether Marine Harvest has raised a serious question about its right to bring an action in trespass."

      Voith's ruling did not deal with any of Morton's scientific arguments against open-net aquaculture because of its potential to transmit diseases from farmed Atlantic salmon to wild B.C. salmon.