Canada’s Great Northern Forest is an ancient forest, shaped by forces of nature and stewarded by Indigenous Peoples since time immemorial. Also known as Canada’s boreal forest, it has some of the last large expanses of undisturbed natural forest, is home to threatened species, and is one of the world’s largest terrestrial stores of carbon. Resolute Forest Products, one of the largest logging companies in North America, is destroying key areas of this magnificent forest. And has abandoned sustainability efforts.

Because of the high conservation value of this great forest, its beauty and unique ecological features, Greenpeace has been speaking up and raising awareness of Resolute’s controversial forestry practices with the public and buyers of Resolute’s products for years. But this campaign has now become a battleground over free speech and advocacy itself. Instead of working collaboratively with Greenpeace and other stakeholders to find lasting solutions for the forest, workers and local communities, Resolute has filed a $300 million Canadian dollar (CAD) lawsuit against Greenpeace USA, Greenpeace International, and individual activists, as well as a separate CAD$7 million lawsuit against Greenpeace Canada and individual activists. With these lawsuits, and with its public attacks against other prominent environmental organizations, Resolute is attempting to silence legitimate public concerns, all the while ignoring scientific recommendations for the health of the forest and thus the longevity of the forest products industry.

The $300 million CAD Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) lawsuit that Resolute has filed in the US, uses a set of laws designed to prosecute the mafia, to sue environmental advocates. Resolute essentially argues that environmental advocacy constitutes criminal behavior. By delegitimizing essential advocacy work for forest protection, which provides important oversight on corporations like Resolute, and by imposing harsh financial penalties on protected free speech, this lawsuit could have a chilling effect on freedom of speech in general. Ultimately Resolute’s meritless lawsuits against Greenpeace could impact individuals and groups across civil society that seek to make positive changes by making it too expensive and risky to engage in free speech, advocacy, informed expert opinions, and even research.

Free speech is not just foundational for environmental advocates, it is also vital for some of Resolute’s current customers. A new Greenpeace investigation reveals that many companies that rely on free speech and transparency as a core part of their business, who should be natural allies of advocacy and expression, are among Resolute’s customers. This investigation showed some of the largest global book publishers, including Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Hachette, are buying paper from Resolute and thus supporting the very company that is actively threatening a right which is fundamental to their own existence and essential to us all.

The campaign to conserve Canada’s Great Northern Forest is now a battleground for free speech, and the way that this story plays out could have far reaching ramifications. Fortunately, solutions are available today. Not only can publishers stand up for free speech and forest solutions, but Resolute too can embrace a path toward truly sustainable management of forests for future generations.