Thursday, January 6, 2011

Canadian Judge Orders Reporter to ID Anonymous Source in Libel Suit

Supreme Court of Canada, Ottawa, Canada.Image via WikipediaCiting the Supreme Court of Canada's decision last Fall in Globe and Mail v. Atty. General of Canada that failed to create a blanket shield law to protect journalists (See "TUOL" post 10/28/10), British Columbia Supreme Court Judge Paul Williamson this week ordered Vancouver Province reporter Elaine O'Connor to reveal a confidential source in a defamation suit involving Green party Member of Parliament Bill Lougheed, according to a story in the Winnipeg Free Press.

The defamation case arises from inter-familial warfare between Kelly Wilson, spouse of former Vancouver-area MP Blair Wilson, and Lougheed, her stepfather. A Province article alleged Lougheed claimed Wilson was unfit to serve in public office and quoted an anonymous letter suggesting that Wilson purportedly had engaged in profligate campaign spending. The letter triggered a probe by Elections Canada that found most of the letter's claims to be unsubstantiated, though Wilson owned up to a failure to disclose $9,000 in campaign expenses.

The plaintiff asked the court to compel O'Connor to identify the author of the anonymous letter. The Province plans to appeal Judge Williamson's decision and will seek to stay his order. Wilson's libel suit is presently in pre-discovery. Judge Williamson wrote that he could not determine whether protecting the anonymous source at issue would be in the public interest until he knows the identity and motive of the letter-writer.

Across the border, in the conflict between reporter's privilege and the right of a plaintiff to prove his or her defamation case in court, judges have often sided with the plaintiff, dating back to Garland v. Torre, 259 F.2d 545 (2d. Cir. 1958), in which the court held the disclosure of relevant information that went to the heart of Garland's libel claim outweighed the First Amendment argument for preserving the confidentiality of the source.

Still, count "TUOL" among the U.S. and Canadian journalists wondering: "What's going on with those Canadian courts, eh?"


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