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UPDATED – Criminal libel charges against a Fredericton blogger have been dropped after the New Brunswick Justice Department decided Canada's criminal libel charge may be unconstitutional.

UPDATED

Criminal libel charges against a Fredericton blogger have been dropped after the New Brunswick Justice Department decided Canada's criminal libel charge may be unconstitutional.

Police in Fredericton raised eyebrows in January by charging a local blogger with defamatory libel, a charge rarely used in Canada. The charges apparently stemmed from comments Charles LeBlanc made on his blog about a local police officer.

Now, CBC News reports, the charges have been dropped. "Following an extensive review of case law, it is clear that other jurisdictions have found this section to be unconstitutional," the provincial government said in a statement on Friday.

CBC News reported that police raided LeBlanc’s apartment on January 19, arrested him, seized computer equipment and charged him with libel.

According to CBC, the police said an adult male was arrested in connection with an investigation into defamatory libel, a criminal charge under Section 301 of the Criminal Code.

The Fredericton Gleaner quoted Jula Hughes, an associate professor of law at the University of New Brunswick, as saying charges of defamatory libel are very rare in Canada.

“Normally, if a person feels libelled, they go to civil court and they sue civilly,” Hughes was quoted as saying. “This criminal offence is extraordinarily rare and is frequently thought to be related to hate speech. So it is a very serious offence and one that would only be applicable in the most extraordinary circumstances.”

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LeBlanc said on his blog that he believed the arrest related to a comment about a police officer that he posted last summer. It’s not clear what the offending comment was. LeBlanc’s current blog and a previous one frequently criticize police and contain repeated allegations of racism.

LeBlanc has previously been charged for disturbing the peace for using a bullhorn in a protest, and for riding his bicycle on a sidewalk, CBC said.

Julian Walker, who teaches a course in free speech and the free press at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, was quoted in the Gleaner as questioning the use of the defamatory libel charge by police in connection with an alleged offence against a police officer.

“Certainly, there would be much more comfort from a free press point of view and free speech if this was handled in the normal way,” said Walker.

“The message seems to be if you criticize the police, validly or invalidly, they arrive on your doorstep and you will find yourself criminally charged and your stuff seized.”

Fredericton city councillor Jordan Graham told CBC News that the charge is a cause for concern.

“I think that if you’re going to be going after members of the media, or people that promote public discussion through criticism with this law, it creates concerns about how honest of a dialogue was can have with people and with government and I think that’s a fundamental liberty we all have to have,” CBC quoted Graham as saying.

 

Grant Buckler is a retired freelance journalist and a volunteer with Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and lives in Kingston, Ont.


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