Sometimes the little guy can take on big government -- and walk away a winner. That was the case for former student, Steven Schnoor, who took on the Canadian Government and former Canadian Ambassador to Guatemala, Kenneth Cook.
Michael Steven Schnoor said he tried more diplomatic avenues to resolve the dispute, which arose after Kenneth Cook disparaged a short video Schnoor had made documenting the eviction of Guatemalans in El Estor by a Canadian company, Skye Resources. While Skye Resources ordered the evictions, the actual evictions were carried out by Guatemalan police, the army and privately-hired security personnel. The violent eviction involved burning down people's homes.
When then Ambassador to Guatemala, Kenneth Cook, was made aware of the eviction and the video documenting the eviction, Cook said the video was a fake, based on old photographs. Cook also said one woman was a hired actress.
After years of getting nowhere, Schnoor, who was a Ph.d. student in 2007 when he made his video, took Canada and Cook to Small Claims Court in an attempt to wring justice for himself.
Schnoor won his case Wednesday, and Justice Pamela Thomson decreed Schnoor should be paid $10,000 in damages. Schnoor said “I am glad that there has finally been some accountability for the Ambassador’s actions. As the judge said, this defamation was serious. To me, this is a very big problem – it’s not just about me and one particular video. I am concerned that this is an example of how the Government of Canada is quick to discount the voices of people who are harmed by Canadian mining companies. I hope that more Canadians will lend their voice to the growing numbers who are already saying that this is not what they expect from their government.”
In her ruling, Schnoor reported, Justice Thomson noted "... that in a meeting conducted at the Canadian Embassy in Guatemala City in February 2007, Ambassador Cook said that the woman in the documentary was paid to act in the video and that the photograph of the man in despair was not taken at the evictions, but was a stock photograph that had been used before.
Justice Thomson held that the Ambassador’s statements were defamatory and were not true. She further held that “the Ambassador was reckless”, and that “he should have known better”.
Justice Thomson also drew attention to the behaviour of the Canadian government in the months after the defamatory comments were spoken. She held that the “dead silence” that Schnoor received in response to his request for an explanation, retraction and apology, was “spiteful and oppressive”."Schnoor said he learned from others that Cook had told a number of people that Schnoor's video was faked.
Cook and the Government of Canada testified at the hearing, claiming that Cook was presenting another side to the eviction story, reported the Toronto Star.