<eng>Friends Of The Lubicon

The Anarchives (tao@lglobal.com)
Mon, 15 Apr 1996 14:43:35 +0000 (GMT)


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The following interview appeared in the current issue of
Corporate Crime Reporter (Volume 10, Number 14, April 8, 1996):

INTERVIEW WITH KEVIN THOMAS, FRIENDS OF THE LUBICON, TORONTO,
ONTARIO, CANADA

In a stunning blow to Canadian activists, an appellate court
in Ontario on January 23, 1996 declared a consumer boycott
against Daishowa Inc. illegal and imposed a temporary injunction
against the boycott's organizers.
The boycott was organized by Friends of the Lubicon, a
Toronto-based unincorporated voluntary organization formed in
1989 to assist the Lubicon Cree Nation of Northern Alberta in
resolving their land rights disputes with the governments of
Alberta and Canada.
In 1989, the government of Alberta granted land timber
licenses to virtually all 4,000 square miles of Lubicon territory
to a unit of Daishowa.
In 1991, in an effort to pressure Daishowa not to clearcut
the land until the Lubicon's land rights were resolved, Friends
of the Lubicon organized a boycott against paper bags
manufactured by Daishowa.
The boycott worked, as more than 45 companies, included fast
food chains, stopped buying bags from Daishowa, forcing the
company to hold off clearcutting for the last four years.
The company reacted harshly in January 1995, suing the
organizers of the boycott, claiming tortious interference with
Daishowa's business.
One leader of the boycott and a defendant in the lawsuit
filed by Daishowa is Kevin Thomas, a legal researcher in Toronto.
We interviewed Thomas on April 2, 1996.

CCR: What is the Lubicon Cree Nation?
THOMAS: Lubicon Cree Nation is a native group living in northern
Alberta. There are currently 500 members whose traditional
hunting and trapping territory covers approximately 4,000 square
miles.
They are fighting for a land rights settlement with the
governments of Alberta and Canada which would give them a reserve
area of about 95 square miles.
CCR: What are the positions of the governments of Alberta and
Canada?
THOMAS: This dispute has been going on for about fifty years.
Currently, they are negotiating with the federal government. The
government's says that the Lubicon are a distinct people, and
they should have a reserve settlement, but they've done
everything in their power to prevent a settlement.
The problem is the area in which the Lubicon live is
incredibly rich in oil and gas. Since that oil and gas was
discovered, the place has been overrun by almost every oil and
gas company you can think of, and they've pumped out over $8
billion in oil and gas from Lubicon lands.
CCR: Who does the land belong to?
THOMAS: To the Lubicon people.
CCR: Why did they give the oil and gas rights to the companies?
THOMAS: They didn't. The Lubicon people never signed any
treaties. They never ceded their lands to the government at any
point in Canadian history. However, the government of Canada and
the government of Alberta claim that they have the right to the
land. And therefore the governments have given permits to oil,
gas, and forestry companies.
CCR: When did you start the Friends of the Lubicon?
THOMAS: About a dozen of us started it back in 1988.
CCR: What was the impetus to starting the group?
THOMAS: A couple of us had been up to northern Alberta. We had
seen the community. We had been in contact with them for a few
years. When we actually got there and saw the conditions that
they lived in, that was enough to spur us to want to do something
about it.
CCR: What were the conditions that you saw?
THOMAS: The Lubicon's hunting and trapping economy was destroyed
by oil development. Since that started, Lubicon have gone from
relative security and health to abject poverty. There is a 95
percent welfare rate.
When I visited there in 1987, they were in the midst of a
tuberculosis epidemic that affected about a third of the
community. There is alcoholism, suicide, an epidemic of still-
births and birth defects, and a whole myriad of poverty-related
social problems which never existed before the companies moved
in.
CCR: What took you there?
THOMAS: My uncle lives out in Alberta. Originally, he told me
about the situation. He was familiar with it. When I first heard
asked for more information. The more I read about it and checked
out the different sides, the more I became convinced that there
was something really wrong here.
CCR: So, originally, this campaign didn't start out as a group to
fight Daishowa?
THOMAS: No. In fact, that was the farthest thing from our minds.
Forestry practices weren't a big deal there until 1989. In 1989,
the rights to almost the entire province of Alberta were sold off
to Mitsubishi and Daishowa, two giant multinational paper
companies. The government gave Daishowa the rights to clear cut
almost the entire Lubicon territory. This came after all the
years of oil and gas development on the Lubicon lands. So, the
opening up of clearcutting to Daishowa was the last straw. They
couldn't see their land ripped apart.
CCR: What has Daishowa done to the land so far?
THOMAS: In 1990, through a subsidiary called Brewster
Construction, they began clearcutting. The pulp mill Daishowa
built in Peace River, Alberta requires about 11,000 trees a day.
That's about 70 football fields per day. The Lubicons were
determined to stop that kind of destruction on their lands.
That year, the clearcutting was stopped because of an arson
attack at a logging camp. The company felt it was unsafe to
continue. The next year, when Daishowa declared they were going
back in, the Lubicon people put out a call for help, saying they
didn't feel they could stop this alone. They asked people from
the outside to become involved and pressure Daishowa not to
clearcut.
CCR: What did you do?
THOMAS: We were a bit stumped at first, but luckily somebody was
eating at a pizza joint here in Toronto. This person looked at
the bottom of a paper bag in the pizza joint, and there was a
little Daishowa logo on it. Suddenly, we realized we had the
ability to do something. We could talk to these companies and try
to get them to switch their paper bag supplier. We figured that
was worth a try.
CCR: What was the size of the paper bag market for Daishowa?
THOMAS: We didn't know. In fact, we were pretty much novices when
it came to boycotts. We have found out since then that at least
in Canada, they have a large share of the market on paper bags.
But there are other companies, luckily, which provide the same
bags at the same cost. The company says that their total sales
are for paper bags are about $20 million to $25 million. They
claim that the boycott has cost them about $3 million in lost
sales a year, a total of about $8 million so far.
CCR: When did you call for the boycott?
THOMAS: We called for the boycott in the summer of 1991. We
started out by contacting four chain companies that bought paper
bags from Daishowa -- Cultures, Pizza Pizza, Ho-Lee-Chow and
Knechtel Grocers. These are chains that bought a large number of
Daishowa paper bags.
We phoned these companies, then wrote to them, and sent them
information about the company and told them why they should find
a different supplier. Three of them -- Cultures, Ho-Lee-Chow and
Knechtel -- agreed with us and found a new supplier.
CCR: When you approached these companies, you argued what?
THOMAS: We said the situation with the Lubicon was desperate. We
were asking Daishowa to hold off clearcutting until there was a
land rights settlement after which they could negotiate with the
Lubicon as to what happens on Lubicon land. But the land rights
had to be decided first. That seemed reasonable to most people.
These fast food chain companies figured that this was the kind of
controversy they didn't want anything to do with, so they backed
away from Daishowa.
Originally, Pizza Pizza told us they wouldn't switch even if
hell freezes over. Many companies resent their consumers having
any say in the way they run their business. They are annoyed by
consumers actually being involved in decision-making.
Secondly, Pizza Pizza got a cut rate on their bags. We were
told that Daishowa gave them a better price so they would stick
with the company.
So, we handed out flyers in front of one of the Pizza Pizza
stores, we conducted publicity campaigns, so that people who
shopped at these Pizza Pizza stores would know where their money
was going. That was enough to convince Pizza Pizza in the end,
CCR: So, all four targeted companies eventually switched from
Daishowa to other paper bag suppliers. What was Daishowa's
response to this consumer pressure?
THOMAS: Daishowa announced that they were not going to log that
season. In northern Alberta, they can only log in the winter
season, because that is the only time the ground is frozen enough
to get heavy equipment in. So, they said they would not log that
season, but they would wait until next year.
We thought that was a pretty transparent maneuver. They were
trying to wait out the public pressure and then, when the heat
was off, they would go off again. We said that we wanted a
commitment not to log until there was a land rights settlement
with the Lubicon.
We continued to contact more of their customers and
continued to build the boycott. The boycott grew and grew.
CCR: How did it grow?
THOMAS: It is a painstaking process of identifying customers and
contacting them. We found it easier as we went along, because
most of them had heard about the campaign through the media. It
became very well known.
One of the Daishowa sales people complained that everywhere
he went, he would find people who had heard about the boycott,
and they didn't want to deal with him. Even on the golf course,
he says, people would bring it up.
CCR: How many companies have joined the boycott against Daishowa?
THOMAS: About 47 companies have stopped buying Daishowa paper
bags. That represents about 4300 retail outlets in Canada. That's
a lot of paper bags. That's a lot of people touched by the
boycott. The huge public involvement in this issue is the real
victory here. Consumers have supported Native land rights by
refusing to shop at stores that carried Daishowa paper bags or by
shopping at stores that had joined the boycott.
The boycott took Daishowa's name out of the back pages and
made the company a public issue.
CCR: Why the focus on paper bags?
THOMAS: Daishowa doesn't sell directly to the public anywhere.
Daishowa sells to other companies, and paper bags are the most
recognizable of its consumer products. They also sell lumber
products, paper board, and packaging.
CCR: But $20 million is a fraction of Daishowa's income.
THOMAS: The company claims that the financial damage inflicted by
the boycott is a big deal for them. But the main issue is not
money. It's having the public eye on them. They don't want the
public to know what they're doing, much less speak about it.
CCR: The company's response was not to log in Alberta?
THOMAS: Each year, the company added another year long moratorium
in the Cree area. They continued to clearcut in other areas of
Alberta.
As the boycott continued, the only way they could try to
sidestep the issue was by agreeing not to log in the Cree areas.
The problem is now they are running out of easily accessible
areas to clearcut elsewhere in Alberta. So, the heat is coming
down on the Lubicon people.
CCR: In early 1995, they filed the lawsuit against your group,
seeking an injunction to stop the boycott. Do you believe the
pressure to clearcut more land led to the effort to stifle the
boycott?
THOMAS: That's exactly it. They had waited four years, assuming
the boycott would go away. They eventually realized the boycott
wasn't going away, that the public was going to continue to be
involved, and they had to do something. So they sued us.
CCR: How did you hear about the lawsuit?
THOMAS: We first heard about it from a reporter. They served us
later that day. It was kind of a shock at first -- we hadn't
broken any laws, so how could they take us to court?
But they charged us with nuisance, intimidation, secondary
picketing, inducing breach of contract, and conspiracy to injure,
among other things.
In a few instances, we went to stores that carried Daishowa
bags, and handed out flyers in front of the stores, telling
customers about Daishowa and the Lubicon. There is a Canadian
labor law which outlaws secondary picketing -- going to a
customer you have a dispute with and picketing. The law hasn't
been applied in consumer cases before. This is a whole new area.
In our case, where the picketing was purely informational,
using these kinds of laws against us violates basic
CCR: The lawsuit made news in Canada. What was your response?
THOMAS: We had to pour most of our efforts into defense. We were
lucky that prominent lawyers here in Toronto who had experience
with this, volunteered their services. They have been very
helpful.
The company is trying to get a temporary injunction until
trial. At trial, the court decides whether the injunction is
permanent, and whether we have to pay damages to Daishowa.
In May 1995, a local Ontario judge ruled against almost
every one of the company's arguments and refused to give them an
injunction. The company appealed the decision. In January 1996,
an appellate court granted the injunction. The court ruled that
we are not allowed to conduct this boycott.
CCR: What did the appellate court rule in January 1996?
THOMAS: The court said that most of the torts we were charged
with hinged on our `intent' -- we had to be doing this boycott
for malicious reasons. They said that we must have known that
running a boycott would cause economic harm to the company.
Therefore, if we knew that, it must have been our intention to
cause harm. And if it was our intention to cause harm, then the
boycott becomes illegal. That was the court's strange logic.
CCR: But that was your intent, right?
THOMAS: No. Our intent is to support the Lubicon and to try to
prevent clearcutting on their land. It doesn't make sense to
think of a boycott as intending to harm a company, because
without that broader purpose, we have no beef with Daishowa. We
couldn't care less if they make more or less money. If you
believed our real intent was to hurt Daishowa, then you'd have to
believe that even if Daishowa agreed to the Lubicon's demands
we'd continue to boycott them just to see their profits plummet,
that being our real purpose. Our only reason to be involved with
them whatsoever is because of the Lubicon.
CCR: So, the appellate court judge issued a temporary injunction
in January, 1996 --
THOMAS: Right. And we are scheduled to go to trial on September
30, 1996. The problem now is that the appellate court ruling
could be broadly interpreted to shut down almost any consumer
boycott in Canada. Think about it. If a boycott is successful,
the company can argue that the you intended to cause harm to the
company. If you intended to cause harm, according to this ruling,
your boycott is illegal. That's a scary precedent.
CCR: So, right now you are prohibited from telling me or anyone
else not to buy goods from Daishowa?
THOMAS: Well, it is fairly vague, but I think what we are not
allowed to do is go and tell the customers of a fast food chain
that uses Daishowa products about the boycott. I can't tell you -
- - you're not allowed to know -- that the money you spend buying,
say, a certain Washington newspaper, goes towards buying Daishowa
newsprint, and what effect that might have on the Lubicon people.
They're trying to take the public out of a public
issue.
CCR: What impact will this ruling have on your activism?
THOMAS: It has shut us down. For now. But the ruling has
generated much support for us and adverse publicity for the
company. I don't think they like the publicity and I don't think
they are aware of how much support is coming in and how much this
has potential for actually building support in Canada and
especially in the United States, where this lawsuit would never
survive a Constitutional challenge.
CCR: Will this decision be overturned?
THOMAS: It's an open question. The courts here have had a history
of supporting the rights of large corporations over Native
people, environmentalists, unions and activists. We are appealing
the decision, and hoping the courts will act responsibly.
CCR: But the company is still not logging the Lubicon area.
THOMAS: Right. The company is concerned that should they start
logging now, it might generate more adverse publicity and
outrage. People are upset that a company can come into Canada and
start screwing the native people here. And then when people want
to regulate corporate behavior, or complain about it, or express
their opinion, they use the courts to shut them down.
CCR: Is there resentment in Canada that here you have a foreign
company coming in and intimidating Canadian citizens?
has always been some resentment about the fact that the majority
of the profits and jobs from Daishowa's operations are shifted
out of the country. There is a valid national sentiment there.
But I don't think that Daishowa is acting any differently
than a Canadian multinational would under similar circumstances.
[Contact: Kevin Thomas, Friends of the Lubicon, 485 Riddell
Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M6B 1K6, Canada. Telephone: (416) 763-
7500. Fax: (416) 603-2715. E-mail: k.thomas@utoronto.ca]
or
Regroupment de solidarite avec les Autochtones,
3680 Jeanne-Mance, #440, Mtl, Que. H2X 2K5
(514) 982-6606

Russell Mokhiber
Essential Information | domain:
russell@essential.org

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