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April 7, 2005
American Media Catches Up To Adscam

One complaint that Americans receive from Canadians, and deservedly so, is how little our media covers Canadian issues, leaving Americans poorly informed of the affairs of our northern neighbors. I don't believe it to be deliberate, but in an effort to cover global hot spots, our media gives Canada short shrift. I wondered when I started writing about Adscam when the American media would pick up on the story, if at all, since it held the real possibility of toppling the government.

Ironically, the tremendous interest from Canada in this blog has caught the notice of American media and put Adscam in our newspapers. Yesterday and this morning, several articles appeared around the country, including an interview I did with the New York Times which went out on their wire service to newspapers all over. Clifford Krauss spoke with me yesterday and explained Adscam to Americans:

Edward Morrissey, a 42-year-old Minneapolis area call-center manager who runs a Web log, or blog, called Captain's Quarters as a hobby, last Saturday began posting allegations of corruption that reached the highest levels of the Canadian Liberal Party. The postings violate a publication ban instituted a few days earlier by a federal judge, Justice John Gomery, who is leading an investigation into accusations of money laundering and kickbacks in a government program from the 1990's that was aimed at undermining Quebec separatists.

The scandal, which involves government payments of up to $85 million to a handful of Montreal advertising firms for little or no work, has dominated national politics for a year and led to the Liberals losing their majority in the House of Commons last June.

But Justice Gomery moved to limit dissemination of information from the otherwise public hearing in Montreal so as not to influence potential jurors for coming trials in which a government bureaucrat and two advertising executives face criminal charges.

Krauss writes more about the ban, which is the same angle that interested John Tabin at The American Spectator. Tabin opines about the ban after explaining the scandal and CQ's role in exposing some of the testimony -- and doing so in a critical but accurate manner. Tabin explains his purpose to TAS' readers:

Why is Morrissey reporting all this? Why am I repeating it? Quite simply, the publication ban is an abomination. The condescending notion that the jury in Brault's criminal trial might be irretrievably biased by media reports hardly justifies keeping ordinary Canadians in the dark about things that Ottawa's cognoscenti can't stop talking about. Canadian television reporters show images of Brault weeping on the stand, but then say, farcically, they can't reveal what made him break down. (He'd just recounted how he was told to hire a Liberal crony or lose a contract with Via Rail, Canada's state-run passenger train service.) Canada's attorney general has already talked about pursuing Canadian bloggers merely for linking to Captain's Quarters, possibly charging them with contempt of court. What makes the ban especially disturbing is the rumor that the Liberals could call a snap election before the testimony becomes public to avoid accountability at the polls.

As Canadian blogger and sometime TAS contributor Colby Cosh notes, free expression is a fundamental right under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Judges are advised to use publication bans sparingly and with grave concern for Charter principles, and -- unlike many Canadian judges -- Gomery actually did so, in such a way that suggests he might be amenable to lifting the ban. The efficacy of the ban is a factor in the decision to lift it or continue it; the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that an infringement on Charter liberties must have a "rational connection" to the intended benefit. If Americans are reporting what Canadians cannot, the argument for the ban weakens. And so, writes Cosh, "it would actively help free the hands of Canadian webloggers and reporters if our foreign cousins were to be aggressive about "publishing" the substance of the Brault testimony outside the reach of Canadian law" (emphasis his).

Happy to oblige.

And in yesterday's Dallas Morning News, Adscam and the publication ban was the topic of their lead editorial. The editors at DMN don't share my optimism about avoiding any complications at breaking the ban, however:

The lesson would seem to be that in this Internet era, it is futile for governments to try to keep information out of the hands of the people. Not so fast: There is a reasonable chance that the Canadian government will prosecute Mr. Morrissey under Canadian law and request that American courts enforce their ruling.

Before "Captain Ed" ends up in the dock, we hope U.S. courts realize that technology has created a new worldwide information environment where old laws simply no longer fit reality. The poor Canadian judge looks like King Canute or should we say King Canuck vainly ordering the tide to reverse course.

They could try, I suppose, but I think they'd be unlikely to succeed in even receiving a hearing -- and I believe I'd find excellent representation to ensure it didn't go any farther than that if I needed it.

Finally, the local Minneapolis Star-Tribune called last night for an interview and ran it in today's edition, which must have just barely made it in before deadline. Chao Xiong wrote a good piece on the controversy and my role in it, along with some quotes from the Canadian media, an angle that appears unique amoung American coverage so far:

"Within hours of [the blog] being posted people found it and were passing it around," said Bob Cox, night editor of the Toronto newspaper, The Globe and Mail. "There was a great desire amongst Canadians for the information."

Before the blog was discovered, a number of news media outlets had hired a lawyer in anticipation of challenging the publication ban, Cox said. That effort could be bolstered now that the blog has turned water cooler talk into easily accessible, widespread information, he said.

Morrissey has received news media attention in Canada, where because of the ban the news media cannot explicitly discuss information on his blog.

"As a Canadian journalist, I can tell you it's frustrating," Cox said. "Every Canadian with a computer can sit down and read it, but we can't publish it. We're kind of envious that he [Morrissey] can do this."

At least for the moment, Americans have an opportunity to catch up with Canada and learn more about our friends to the north. It may not be the most pleasant of topics, but the analysis provided by the articles gives better insight into the issues that drive Canadian politics and hopefully will stir further interest south of the 49th Parallel.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 7, 2005 5:43 AM

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