Former activist sued over wind farm opposition
Credit: Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press | July 23, 2015
A former Ontario woman who made satirical postings criticizing wind turbine construction in her hometown says she is still facing a lawsuit from a project developer despite giving up the fight and moving out of province.
Esther Wrightman says NextEra Energy Canada has made no move to withdraw the defamation suit they first filed against her in May 2013.
The suit seeks unspecified damages and contends that Wrightman misrepresented the company in order to bolster her own crusade against wind turbines being built to provide power throughout southwestern Ontario.
The suit cites two instances in which Wrightman posted parodied versions of NextEra’s corporate logo to her website, calling it “NextTerror.”
Wrightman, who moved to New Brunswick in 2014 after the turbines were built, says the suit is little more than an attempt to intimidate and silence a critical voice.
NextEra’s statement of claim says the suit could be dropped if Wrightman removes the altered logos.
“NextEra has not asked the defendant to cease her advocacy activities. It has not even asked the defendant to stop using the word “terror” as long as it is not associated with a mutilation or NextEra’s corporate name, trade name or logos,” the statement says.
“…NextEra was careful to seek only the excision of the offending logos, and not to impact any other speech of the defendant.”
But Wrightman says doing so would violate her freedom of speech. NextEra did not respond to a request for comment.
Wrightman filed a statement of defence claiming her use of the NextEra logo amounted to satire, which is protected under Canada’s copyright legislation.
Despite not removing the material from her website, she believed the suit would be withdrawn once her campaign failed to stop the projects around her hometown of Kerwood.
Wrightman initially objected to the turbines on noise and safety grounds, but eventually felt any green energy benefits they might confer were cancelled out by the damage their construction inflicted on local animal habitats.
The successful completion of the turbine projects ultimately led her to relocate her entire family to Saint Andrews, N.B., in 2014.
Although the issue that prompted NextEra’s suit is now largely moot, Wrightman said the fact that it still hangs over her head is a source of great anxiety.
“For five years, they have complete control,” Wrightman said in a telephone interview. “They could say tomorrow, ‘get your stuff in, we’re going to pursue this.’ It’s such an abuse of the system.”
Wrightman believes NextEra’s suit is a classic example of a type of legal action that may soon be banned under pending Ontario legislation.
Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suits are, according to lawyer Brian Macleod Rogers, a controversial strategy used to silence critical voices engaging in a public discussion.
Macleod Rogers, who served on an anti-SLAPP advisory panel put together by the Ontario government, said deep-pocketed corporations often turn to defamation suits to get their point across.
“It normally involves some kind of expression of opinion or use of information that the plaintiff wants to prevent further dissemination of,” he said.
NextEra’s statement of claim, which directly alleges defamation, specifically places Wrightman’s logo alterations at the heart of its complaint.
“The offending material is deliberately used to adversely affect NextEra’s reputation and goodwill in the community, to generate opposition to NextEra’s projects and to other clean energy projects in Ontario and to increase the amounts of donations obtained through the websites,” the statement reads.
Macleod Rogers said that, while copyright laws do make provisions for satirical or parody material, those protections don’t necessarily extend to trademarks.
The Ontario government recently introduced an anti-SLAPP legislation bill that is working its way through the provincial parliament. If it passes, it would join Quebec as the only other province to ban such suits.