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Greenpeace says defamation lawsuit an attempt to muzzle criticism

THUNDER BAY, Ont. - An environmental group has filed court documents saying a lawsuit against it is an attempt to silence its criticism of a forestry company's harvesting practices.

"Greenpeace states that the Plaintiffs’ claims for defamation and interference with economic relations, have no merit and in fact are being made to harass, intimidate and silence Greenpeace," the group said in a statement of defence filed Thursday.

The papers were filed in response to a defamation suit brought against it last year by Montreal-based Resolute Forest Products (TSX:RFP).

Resolute brought the case in 2013 after Greenpeace accused it of building roads and cutting trees in regions of Quebec it had promised it would stay out of under the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, an agreement on forest preservation and harvesting signed by environmental groups and Canada's main forestry companies.

Greenpeace later retracted allegations it had made about road-building, but Resolute accuses the group of repeating those charges nonetheless.

Resolute also accuses Greenpeace of falsely claiming it had mishandled workers' pensions, and that the group mischaracterized the amount of recycled fibre in Resolute products.

Those claims were circulated to Resolute's customers and at its annual general meeting. The company alleges they hurt its reputation and cost it a coveted eco-friendly certification.

"The full scope of the damage is not yet known by Resolute," says the statement of claim, which was also laid against two individual Greenpeace members. The lawsuit asks for $7 million in damages.

Resolute has also filed a similar lawsuit against an environmental auditing firm claiming its draft report helped lead to the company losing its Forest Stewardship Council approved status. The company claims the two auditors made errors and were biased against it.

The report has not been released, pending the lawsuit. Resolute is requesting a new audit be conducted.

"The lawsuits against Greenpeace and Rainforest Alliance meet the classic profile of a SLAPP suit (strategic lawsuit against public participation) because they have been brought to silence criticism of the company’s conduct," said the Greenpeace documents.

Greenpeace accused Resolute of filing the lawsuit in Ontario instead of their Quebec headquarters because that province has legislation against such litigation. Greenpeace says Resolute has lobbied heavily against introducing such a law in Ontario.

It denies Resolute's claims that it sought to damage the company and calls its statements fair comment.

"Greenpeace’s objective has never been to cause harm to Resolute Forest Products, but rather to promote an explicit vision for the future of the boreal forest which includes Resolute Forest Products and other forest companies playing an important role as part of a diversified forest economy," says its statement.

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton

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