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April 06, 2005

AdScam reality check

On July 5, 1993, a publication ban was issued in relation to the prosecution of Paul Bernardo for the kidnapping, torture, rape and murder of young women in southern Ontario. The ban was controversial at the time as people were uncertain of its efficacy even in the early days of the internet, questioned the wisdom of keeping secrets from the public and anxious to undertand details of a case that were so traumatic for society in general.

But that was not the only reason people wanted access to details of Bernardo's crimes. For some the trial was a grotesque source of entertainment. Googling the names of Bernardo and his then wife, Karla Homolka I see that ten years later there are websites purporting to sell trial transcripts as pornography. Leaving aside the intrinsic outrage of such behaviour I try to imagine for a moment what this must mean for the families of Bernardo and Homolka's victims. It is an intolerable thought.

Over the last few days the Canadian blogosphere and mainstream media have been in knots over another publication ban this time related to massive fraud and political corruption. Once again the ban has proved controversial and once again it is in place to ensure a fair trial. For everyone who has argued for the lifting of the ban I ask this question: how many people seriously believe those men offering testimony to the Gomery Commission are innocent of the crimes for which they are charged? Frankly, had that thought even crossed your mind?

Because that is how our system of justice works. Those men are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Unless and until you would prefer another standard of guilt I suggest you give that thought some consideration before pointing fingers about the imminent collapse of democracy in this country. Justice Gomery is no fan of the Liberal government or its last incarnation under Jean Chretien. He is doing his job and in so doing he is defending our democracy. This is not the Bernardo trial. The publication ban was always intended to be a short-lived affair to recognize a conflict with trials that were to begin in early May. In fact, I expect the ban will be lifted in whole or in part later today. But even if it is not, even if the internet and alternative offshore blog news sources did not exist at all, all of that testimony would have been made public in due course. This is no dictatorship but the democracy we have made for ourselves. Jean Brault's testimony and the rest that is to follow is no Bernardo trial evidence to be kept under lock and key forever but in one respect public reaction to the two publication bans is comparable. For some the right to a fair trial is trumped by rubber-necking, political opportunism and puerile attention seeking.

Do I think the publication ban is misguided? Perhaps. I am swayed by arguments the whole proceedings should have been held in camera. This would reduce the likelihood of a two-tier society where political insiders and establishment media imagine they know what is going on while the rest of us labour in ignorance. It would certainly have spared us the unedifying spectacle of the last few days. Instead of stumbling over ourselves to break the law in the spirit of adolescent rebellion I suggest we give some thought to changing the law. A less deferential society is one I think most Canadians would like to see and with the internet I believe we are going to see it whether we want it or not.

Don't blame them for my conclusions but by all means take a look at Babbling Brooks, Andrew Coyne and Gen-X at 40 for an alternative to the histrionics.

Update: I had the wrong date for the Homolka trial publication ban, now corrected.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at April 6, 2005 07:29 AM

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? The Flea weighs in from Quotulatiousness
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Your comparison with the Bernardo trial seems misguided.

Wasn't the ban on Homolka's trial was to protect both the families and Bernardo's upcoming trial.
The ban on Bernardo's trial was solely to protect the families and the victims - both bans continue to protect those families and their daughters.

There really is no comparison to this case. It's ridiculous to think that Brault couldn't get a fair trial if there was no publication ban - this is about politics and money - topics that the average Canadian/Quebecer/Montrealer cares little about or has strong feelings about.

It is wrong to compare it to the brutal rapes and murders of teenaged women - something that every single person can understand and would force raw emotion into their reasoning.

It is my beleif that Justice Gomery felt tremendous pressure to place a ban on the testimony because of the previous acqusations of bias from the Liberals. If he didn't place a ban, those yelps would have grown.

Posted by: Don at ATC [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 6, 2005 11:05 AM

I object to the publication ban law as a matter of principle. While I have technically obeyed it, I certainly don't mind cavorting around in some grey areas as my own form of civil disobedience. If I get nailed for it, I made my own bed and I'll sleep in it.

Posted by: Sean M. [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 6, 2005 11:29 AM

Don: You may be right to believe Justice Gomery is mistaken in imposing a publication ban in this particular instance. You are mistaken, however, about the reason for the publication ban on evidence to the Homolka trial. While the ban remains in force - some evidence has in fact been destroyed - with the aim of preserving the dignity of the victims and for the well-being of their relatives the ban was imposed in the first instance to ensure that Bernardo could receive a fair trial.

Many folks in the media argued against that decision at the time for much the same reasons that are being argued in the case of current testimony before the Gomery Commission. They may have been right to do so (though I do not believe so) but the comparison is entirely legitimate.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 6, 2005 11:35 AM