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April 5, 2005 — 12 PM

We Ban on Guard for Thee

A friend and I were recently discussing the differences between the Canadian media and European media (specifically, the British media). I had remarked that it seemed like British newspapers overwhelmingly feature stories about Britain and British people, at the expense of what’s happening in the rest of the world. They even seem to ignore almost entirely the rest of Europe, although if an American celebrity sneezes or better yet goes on trial for child molestation then that, for some reason, is big news in England.

Anyway, the point was that I’m used to the Canadian press, which is either hopelessly dull, or puts a good deal of attention on international news (and occasionally, both at the same time). The conclusion we both came to is that Canada, in addition to having such a large immigrant population to spark interest in foreign matters, doesn’t actually have much going on, so we fill our newspapers and TV news with events from the rest of the world, where Things Are Happening.

Of course once in awhile, something does happen in Canada, so it’s a pity that in these rare occasions the media are actually banned from reporting it. This being the 21st century though, the ban has met with some obstacles.

In case you haven’t been reading the political blogs over the last couple days, here’s the gist of it. A publication ban was issued on testimony given by three men linked to the “Sponsorship Scandal”, in which many millions of dollars were distributed to marketing firms connected to the ruling Liberal Party, none of whom did much if any work to earn the money. Justice Gomery, who heads the commission investigating the scandal, decided to ban their testimony as it may have affected their right to an impartial trial — all are facing fraud charges.

Publication bans aren’t new in Canada. Every Canadian remembers the ban on reporting evidence from the trial of Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo. What is new is that the Internet, and blogging in particular, makes it a near impossibility today to ban publication of information.

An American blogger, “Captain Ed” of Captain’s Quarters, decided to intentionally break the ban on the sponsorship testimony by publishing quotes of Jean Brault in his blog, and he along with other American bloggers (especially of the conservative anti-socialist variety) are now parading as champions against Canadian state censorship. The resulting storm of controversy unfolding on the pages of Canadian newspapers poses an interesting problem for Justice Gomery, not to mention the Liberal Party, which is quite badly implicated by some of the testimony. It’s also evidence of a fairly well-known phenomenon: if the media don’t have anything to report on, they will instead report on themselves.

As Mr. Nestruck points out, the anti-Canadianists have missed a vital point: the publication ban was not instituted by the government itself, it was decided by an independent judge. The government is not hiding the scandal from the people. Canada has not “slipped further into oligarchy”, it just merely slipped further into a legal dilemma which is, at heart, a very old problem.

Before people get all high and mighty, they should appreciate the distinction. The publication ban on this testimony is not permanent. Once the reason for the ban — protecting the right of accused to a fair trial — is disposed, the ban will disappear. In this case, the ban may have be lifted within a couple months, when the trials start (when the juries of those trials would be sequestered). Or it may happen much sooner, if the trial is pushed back to the fall.

It’s amusing yet exhausting to see people holler “censorship” without a complete grasp of the facts. There is some absolutely hysterical talk of prosecution against Canadian web sites which even so much as link to the report of banned testimony. This is like an old game of telephone: one newspaper reported the musings of an inquiry official that “anybody who reproduces [the testimony] is at risk,” and that has been interpreted to mean that the Iron Curtain has closed and Canadians now cower under fear of being visited by the RCMStasi. In other news, the only thing you can produce in an echo chamber is noise.

Of course, now that the ban is for all intents and purposes useless, it may be repealed anyway, but that is not necessarily something to celebrate. Though totally unproved, there are allegations of serious threats against people who have come forward to testify about the scandal. It would be an awfully hollow victory for “free speech” if someone was hurt, physically or otherwise, before testifying.

If you’re more interested in the principle than the facts of the matter, Colby Cosh has a good summary of the current state of law regarding publication bans. And if the facts are all you’re after, Norman Spector cautions you:

Late yesterday, pieces of information began to circulate on US websites. Some is accurate but, in general, Id say that whoever is feeding the information to US bloggers has been spending too much time watching the Sopranos and too little time paying attention to Canadian politics.


WOW WOW WOW The BAN is LIFTED. People who voted Liberal are either stupid or bastards. You choose.

Marc Authier | Apr. 7, 2005 — 9 PM

Previously: Hey Explorer Users, Your Browser Is Lame!

Subsequently: A Blogger’s Defense

April 2005
the Archives