Managing Editor Andrew Douglas says he didn’t get information he published from the hearing.

By Grant Buckler

If Andrew Douglas is worried about being charged with breaching a publication ban, he’s not showing it.

The managing editor of Halifax’s scandal and satire magazine Frank not only published an article titled “Stupid is as stupid does, publication ban edition,” but he says Frank (which is not affiliated with the Ottawa magazine of the same name) has printed mock wedding invitations welcoming readers to Douglas’ court date on Sept. 6 at Halifax Provincial Court.

The charge is related to the trial of Christopher Garnier, who faces a second-degree murder charge in the death of Catherine Campbell, a Truro, N.S., police officer. Her body was found under a bridge in the Halifax area on Sept. 16, 2015.

On July 11, Frank published a story online. The preliminary hearing in Garnier’s murder trial was held on the same day that the Frank story appeared online. The story also appeared in Frank’s print edition of July 13.

At the preliminary hearing, a publication ban was imposed on certain information introduced at the hearing, apparently including some or all of what appeared in Frank’s article.

Halifax Regional Police launched an investigation that day, according to a police statement, and notified Douglas of the charge on July 26.

Douglas, however, told J-Source he didn’t get the information from the preliminary hearing – which he said he did not attend – nor was it given to him by someone who did attend the hearing. He said his story was based on a leaked document, sent to him three to four weeks before the hearing. He also said that the story was posted online at 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. on July 11, before the publication ban had been imposed, and that Frank’s July 13 print edition was coming off the press at Advocate Printing in Pictou, N.S., even earlier that morning.

At around 9:30 on July 11, Douglas tweeted that Frank would have an exclusive story about the Campbell case that day, and received a phone call from Chris Hansen, a communications person at the Public Prosecutions Service, warning him that the information in that exclusive story might breach a publication ban. One of the first things he did, he said, was to call Advocate Printing and ask what time the issue had been printed. He said he was told it was “six-something a.m.

Douglas said his defence is clear. “Court publication bans are only applied to information that come from the court process.” Because Douglas got his information elsewhere, he said, he did not violate the ban – and because the print issue was printed before the information was presented at the hearing, it could not have come from the court process.

If the facts are as Douglas stated, said Justin Safayeni, who practices media and defamation law at Stockwoods LLP in Toronto, he’s right. “If the information was obtained from sources before the beginning of the preliminary inquiry, then Douglas has a very strong defence to any charge of failing to comply with a (Criminal Code Section 539) publication ban,” Safayeni told J-Source.

“That ban only applies to ‘evidence taken at the inquiry.’  Information obtained from sources before the preliminary inquiry takes place is not covered by a ban made at the inquiry, even if there may be some degree of overlap between what was known independently before the inquiry and the evidence that later emerges at the inquiry.  On that basis alone, I would expect the charge of breaching the publication ban to fail.”

That’s what Douglas is counting on. “We’re just going to go ahead…and defend the hell out of it,” he said. Violations of publication bans are usually cut-and-dried cases, he noted. “When they lay a charge like this they know they’ve got it. Well, this time they don’t got it,” he said.

The Halifax Regional Police force is sticking to its guns. Police spokeswoman Lauren Leal told J-Source that police officers determined there were grounds to lay the charge, and it “will be up to the court” to decide the outcome.

“I think it’s a very rare case,” said Douglas. “I think it will be of interest nationally.” He added that a charge like this could have a chilling effect on media outlets deciding whether or not to publish information that might later come under a publication ban.

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

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