Prosecuting and jailing citizens for defamatory libel smacks of show trials we’d expect from countries such as Russia and China, says media lawyer and Law Times columnist Alan Shanoff. Yet the archaic law remains on the books and was recently used to imprison an Ottawa restaurant owner for publishing false material concerning an online restaurant reviewer. It's time to abolish the crime and leave libel to the civil courts, he argues in a February 11, 2013 column.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has asked Fredericton police for an explanation of why a local blogger, Charles LeBlanc, is being investigated under the little-used law of criminal libel. In a Feb. 1 letter, the group seeks an explanation of why LeBlanc, "apparently a vocal critic of the police force," had his computer seized during a search of his home. The group points out that courts in at least three provinces — Ontario, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador — have struck down the Criminal Code's libel provisions as a violation of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression.
Read the CBC report, which includes the text of the letter.
There is a serious and troubling disconnect between the principle of open justice and the reality on the ground. Dean Jobb explains that in many jurisdictions, the bureaucrats who oversee court clerks and registrar’s offices have a habit of devising rules and policies that block access to court filings – policies that have little or no basis in law and make a mockery of Supreme Court of Canada precedents.
The Ontario Court of Appeal has struck down a sweeping ban on publishing details of the divorce proceedings of convicted murderer Col. Russell Williams, confirming that “emotional distress and embarrassment” are insufficient grounds for supressing information about court cases. The ban was lifted on Feb. 7.
A Toronto Star investigation into the city’s busy youth court met with resistance from judges and prosecutors, arbitrary publication bans and attempts to block access to the basic records the media needs to cover the justice system. In the words of reporter David Bruser, the paper had to fight to lift the “institutional shroud covering the often-disturbing details of youth crimes from public view.”Read the Star’s Oct. 29 report: “A Secret Court.”
Internet users who post hyperlinks to libellous material posted on other websites cannot be sued for repeating the libel, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled. The Oct. 19 ruling in Crookes v. Newton protects one of the most basic functions of the Internet — the ability of users to share links to material posted online, even material they have not fully reviewed and they may not agree with. The court recognized that simply posting a link to material that may be libellous is a far cry from publishing or repeating the libel, let alone endorsing what has been said in the linked post.
Read the ruling in Crookes v.Newton, 2011 SCC 47.
Read the Globe and Mail report.
Read CBC senior legal counsel Daniel Henry’s analysis of the ruling.
An Ontario judge has found no grounds for preventing the media from reporting that one of three people accused of murder has pleaded guilty, even though the co-accused will stand trial soon. And another judge of the province’s Superior Court has refused to seal documents filed in a civil case despite a claim they reveal trade secrets.
It has been almost two years since the Supreme Court of Canada created the libel defence of responsible communication on matters of public interest — long enough for at least three courts to weigh in on what journalists must do to meet its criteria. In this column in the upcoming issue of the CAJ's Media magazine, J-Source's law section editor Dean Jobb explores how the new defence is being interpreted.
An Ontario judge has tossed a libel action against three political bloggers, arguing that web-based political discussions are forums for “the parry and thrust” of vigorous debate and participants whose reputations have been attacked should fight back with words, not legal action.
Feb. 28, 2011 — Under new rules that came into effect today, British Columbia’s courts will no longer block access to the court file in cases where a publication ban is in place. Previously, journalists and citizens were barred from reviewing documents filed in sexual assault and other cases, even though other provinces permit access. The new rules also clarify that reporters and members of the public have the right to see search warrant documents unless a judge has ordered the file to be sealed.
The changes come after the Victoria Times-Colonist published a series last year that exposed how outdated policies were hindering access to the province’s justice system. Read the Postmedia News story on the changes.