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Publisher, authors seek to have Barrick suit quashed

by Irwin BlockMontreal Gazette

The publisher and authors of a controversial book denouncing abuses and crimes allegedly committed in Africa by Canadian-owned mining, oil and pharmaceutical companies have launched a legal bid to quash a $6-million defamation lawsuit filed against them by Barrick Gold Corp.

Surrounded by about 100 supporters, some wearing red gags, Les Editions Écosociété publisher Anne-Marie Voisard stood on the Montreal courthouse steps to announce the filing of a motion in Superior Court declaring the lawsuit abusive and therefore inadmissible.

According to Voisard, the suit is designed to “censor” critics and deprive them of fundamental rights, including freedom of expression.

The motion is made possible under Quebec’s anti-SLAPP – strategic lawsuit against public participation – legislation. It refers to lawsuits designed to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with heavy legal defence costs.

Under revisions to Quebec’s Code of Civil Procedure, a corporation suing and suspected of an abusive legal action also could be forced to prove its claim, cover the defendant’s legal costs, or face punitive damages.

The book in question – Noir Canada, subtitled “Pillage, corruption et criminalité en Afrique (Plundering, Bribery and Crime in Africa),” written by academics Alain Deneault, Delphine Abadie and William Sacher – reviews abuses alleged to have been committed by Canadian firms in Africa.

The book links Barrick to an incident in which 52 miners were allegedly buried alive in the Tanzanian mine of Bulyanhulu in 1996. The mine was owned then by Vancouver-based Sutton and sold to Barrick in 1999, but the book suggests Barrick acted with Sutton to prepare the deposit for large-scale development.

Deneault has said the book does not hold Barrick directly responsible for the incident, but presents various opinions on the case, including Barrick’s version.

The motion is expected to be heard in the next few months, while the lawsuit hearings is scheduled to start in September and last 40 days.

“The authors of Noir Canada simply do not have the resources necessary to assume the cost of such a trial,” Voisard said.

If the court finds the suit is abusive, the court could quash it. If it’s allowed to go ahead, the defendants want the court to order Barrick to cover their legal costs, Voisard said.

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