Andrew Douglas had been charged with violating a publication ban imposed at the preliminary hearing in the murder trial of Christopher Garnier.

By Grant Buckler

A charge against the managing editor of Halifax’s Frank magazine for violating a publication ban has been dropped after the Crown said it would present no evidence in the case.

As J-Source previously reported, Andrew Douglas had been charged with violating a publication ban imposed at the preliminary hearing in the murder trial of Christopher Garnier. Garnier is accused of the murder of Catherine Campbell, a Truro, N.S., police officer who was killed while off duty. In July, Frank had published a story containing unflattering information about the murder victim.

The story appeared online on the day of the preliminary hearing and in its print edition later the same week. Douglas’ defence hinged on the assertion that the story was based not on information presented at the preliminary hearing but on documents leaked to Frank—and to other Halifax media outlets that chose not to publish the information—before the hearing.

His lawyers argued that a publication ban covers only information presented in court, not information obtained by a media outlet outside the court process. Justin Safayeni, who practices media and defamation law at Stockwoods LLP in Toronto, agreed with that argument. “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 in August. So apparently did Paul Carver, the chief Crown attorney for Halifax.

Alan Parish of Burchells LLP, acting for Douglas, sent Catherine Cogswell, the Crown attorney originally handling the case, a lengthy letter dated Sept. 27 outlining precedents to support his position. Cogswell rejected the arguments. Parish then contacted Denise Smith, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions at the Crown’s office, who agreed to refer the matter to Carver, according to Parish’s letters provided to J-Source by Douglas.

After the case was dismissed, Carver – as quoted by The Canadian Press and others – told reporters,  “We took the opportunity to look at other decisions from across the country (and) didn’t feel they allowed us to make an argument sufficient to respond to the defence authorities.”

While welcoming the decision, Douglas told J-Source he is disappointed that other media outlets are still refusing to publish the details about Campbell that were contained in the leaked documents and the Frank story.  “By the Crown deciding not to prosecute us,” he wrote in an e-mail, “you would think everyone else would say, huh, Frank was right, so we’re good to talk about this stuff, too. But no. Still scared of the publication ban.” 

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