news | Friday May 14, 2010

Imperial Canada: Talon statement on "libel chill"

Imperial Canada Inc.

At the start of this year, Talon Books Ltd. announced and scheduled Imperial Canada Inc.: Legal Haven of Choice for the World’s Mining Industries for publication in May 2010, both in our seasonal catalogue and on our website. On February 12, 2010, Talon received a fax marked “WITH PREJUDICE” from Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP, the law firm representing the Barrick Gold Corporation, on the subject of the alleged “Involvement of Talon Books in writing, translating, publishing, disseminating or promoting Imperial Canada Inc.” That fax stated, in part, under threat of legal action, that: “In the circumstances, we are therefore instructed to demand that you provide the undersigned with a copy of any portion of the manuscript or text of Imperial Canada Inc. that makes direct or indirect reference to Barrick, Sutton Resources Ltd., or to any of their past or present subsidiaries, affiliates, directors or officers no later than by 5:00 p.m. on February 19, 2010.”

While Talon did not reply to the February 12 fax from Barrick’s lawyers, much less accede to its extra-judicial demand to interfere with our publication process and invade our authors’ and translators’ privacy by 5:00 p.m. on February 19, we did mark our announcement of the May publication of Imperial Canada Inc. as “cancelled” on our website. What have become known as SLAPP suits work especially well in Canada, and we, of course, like most Canadians, can’t afford one.

Every spring we mail scholars, writers and readers around the world our catalogue, as well as a letter to its recipients in which our publisher Karl Siegler offers some of his topical thoughts on the current intellectual climate of the world, which he then uses as a meta-narrative in which to embed Talon’s recent and forthcoming publications. This year, Karl’s Leitmotif (which it used to be called before the invention of the hyphenated word “meta-narrative”) was the appropriation of language for commercial gain and the implications of this trend for freedom of speech, a thematic that seemed to demand special comment on Barrick’s pre-publication threats regarding Imperial Canada Inc. His letter said in part:

What kind of culture, what kind of socio-economic reality, what kind of community have we come to live in, where a corporation is allowed to appropriate the full weight of our country’s legal apparatus to threaten the authors, translators and prospective publisher of a book (Imperial Canada Inc.), with “proceedings against Talon Books, as well as against anyone else that plays a role in the publication, dissemination or promotion of this book” for “substantial damages as well as injunctive and other relief,” unless the authors, translators and prospective publisher accede to the corporation’s lawyers’ demand to have delivered to them the manuscript-in-progress of that book, by a deadline they have set three months before that book has been scheduled for public release?

Think about this for a minute—imagine yourself receiving a legal letter [last February], marked “WITH PREJUDICE” from a corporation, that demands you deliver to it a copy of the paper you are preparing for public presentation at the annual Congress of the Learned Societies this coming May, by 5:00 p.m. within one week of your receipt of that letter, because the corporation has seen your paper announced in the Congress program and suspects it may possibly contain (though no court in the land has yet proven it to contain) statements that said corporation might consider defamatory or libelous.

It didn’t take too long for one of the recipients of the letter, Phillip Resnick, to decide the story was worthy of wider circulation, so he wrote an article about it in the Tyee on April 21, 2010. This began to attract national attention from organizations like the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and most recently from Jian Ghomeshi who ran an interview with Karl Siegler and John Dixon of the BC Civil Liberties Association on his program “Q” on May 12, 2010, broadcast nationally on the CBC. You can find it here.

That interview continues to draw a broad and vociferous response from a variety of people who feel that Barrick’s actions with respect to Imperial Canada Inc., have the potential to seriously undermine the principle of free speech in Canada—a democratic right that cannot be dealt with in a cavalier fashion in any society that wishes to continue to think of itself as “free.”

As for Imperial Canada Inc., we have put it back on our list for fall 2010 publication.

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