Something's rotten in Canada
April 15, 2005 8:46 PM   Subscribe

Dissent against police tactics and possible corruption leads to a raid and confiscation of a Calgary man's computer. IP's of former officers who may of accessed the site and passed along complaints of racist and sexist behavior about the current management are also being tracked. Is free speech still alive in Canada?
posted by TetrisKid (9 comments total)
Well - free speech might be sputtering along on the Net.
posted by troutfishing at 8:59 PM on April 15, 2005

I find particularly fascinating the whole gag order that prevents anyone involved from talking about the case. It sounds way too familiar to some of the PATRIOT ACT bull that allows the same. The only difference? PATRIOT also prevents the dissemination of documents from the prosecution (if it's government) to the defense (if it's not government), a critical step in the pre-trial portion referred to as 'discovery.'
posted by mystyk at 9:12 PM on April 15, 2005

Free speech may be alive and well, but abuse of police power and the blue wall of silence -- extending to the bench, as it often does -- is a pretty universal theme.
posted by clevershark at 9:22 PM on April 15, 2005

I'm no law expert, in fact I'm fairly ignorant, but I don't think that "free speech" is enshrined in Canadian law with the same force that it is in America.
posted by nightchrome at 10:05 PM on April 15, 2005

nightchrome - I'll presume your point relates to the gag order, and not the actual allegations of police wrongdoing (which are the subject of inquiry precisely because they are contrary to law, as opposed to being allowed by law). IANAL, but let's see if I can make sense. Are you asking this as a Canadian ignorant of American law, or an American ignorant of Canadian law? Being a Canadian, I'll presume the latter.

What do you mean by "enshrined with the same force?" The right to "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication" is constitutionally entrenched in Canada via the Charter of Rights and Freedoms [wiki; full text here]. This has been the case since 1982. Similar (but weaker) protections were in the Bill of Rights, dating from the 1960s, which was statutory as opposed to constitutional. I presume that there are also some (probably weak) protections for free speech in the common law tradition as well.

If you mean that Canada has restrictions on certain kinds of speech (such as 'hate speech') that U.S. criminal law does not, then you are correct.

Charter rights are guaranteed "only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society." Which is to say that they are not guaranteed in all concievable circumstances, and the Supreme Court has held that speech likely to incite others to violence or criminal acts against others based on membership in an "identifiable group," such as race or religion, is one such demonstrably justifiable circumstance.

A gag order is not so much a violation of a free speech right (i.e. the unjustifiable silencing of views by the government) as it is a measure to protect the rights of the subjects of allegations and/or ensure that details don't negatively affect the investigation.

Having a right to communicate your own thoughts or opinions freely is one thing; being prevented, temporarily, from disseminating specific items of information from proceedings currently before a court is another (and, I think, legitimate if not abused). Such gags are rarely about 'keeping secrets' in a repugnant sense, and the gag order will be lifted eventually.
posted by onshi at 10:56 PM on April 15, 2005

I should add that I am uncomfortable with the idea of court order allowing seizure of something apparently based on the expression of dissent, especially when it happens under a publication ban, but past experience mitigates against paranoia here because (and here's the allegedly quintessential Canadian deference creeping in) past experience suggests that if the judge allowed it, it probably has merit, and that assessment can be made when the details do emerge.

But then again, we're talking Alberta here...
posted by onshi at 11:35 PM on April 15, 2005

From the "IP's...also being tracked" link, I read the following, which seems to say that this part is not in fact happening and will not unless an ongoing "attempt to pressure" succeeds.

Look in the next few days for Beaton to make his next move, which I’m betting, will be to attempt to pressure Vahey to turn over FTP publishing protocols and passwords so Beaton’s hounds can look for the IP addresses of anyone who may have posted to the original website or its offspring

In other words, there is no evidence linked for the majority of what the FPP says.
posted by Zurishaddai at 6:23 AM on April 16, 2005

What an Anton Piller order is.
posted by raygirvan at 7:09 AM on April 16, 2005

A gag order is not so much a violation of a free speech right (i.e. the unjustifiable silencing of views by the government) as it is a measure to protect the rights of the subjects of allegations and/or ensure that details don't negatively affect the investigation.

I can't help but think of that reasoning as a red herring. I'm not aware of there every being repercussions in cases where the police or prosecutor have ever been prosecuted for violating a gag order. However, there are plenty of cases where people who have no relationship to law enforcement get arrested and/or prosecuted for it.

So, the idea that the gag order somehow protects the subject of allegations is beyond wishful thinking and doesn't pass the smell test. In a case like this the object of the order is quite clearly to force the subject of the investigation to shut up about what's happening.

This smacks of police and judicial corruption. I'm not surprised at all that this should have taken place in Alberta, which is like "Texas North".
posted by clevershark at 8:49 AM on April 16, 2005

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