Something very interesting is happening in a court room in Montreal Quebec but we are not allowed to tell you about it. A publication ban which may be lifted as early as this afternoon prevents us from reporting on testimony that is rumoured to be so explosive it might bring down Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin’s minority Liberal Government. This ban covers all Canadian media, including this blog. We not even allowed to report or link to the URL of a website, known as the Captain’s Quarters, located in Minneapolis that is running the full story.
The publication ban, imposed by Mr. Justice John Gomery is meant to ensure that a number of witnesses who either have been or might be charged with a criminal offence receive a fair and unbiased trial. The ban covers the testimony of one individual, Alain Renaud, a senior executive who worked for the ad firm Groupaction during the “Adscam” years. While the Minnesota website is receiving over 400,000 hits per day, the Canadian public has yet to learn the full extent of the testimony that might force them to the polls as early as two months from now.
This is another example of how new technologies are rewriting our relationship with news, information and civil rights. Publication bans are a tool of the court that are very rarely used in Canada but have a rational basis in Canadian law. On one hand, Mssr. Renaud and his co-accused have the right to expect a fair trail by a jury of their peers, untainted by media speculation and opinion. On the other hand, the Canadian public is obviously ill served when such a ban forces us to look to our American cousins (who generally otherwise ignore us) for Canadian political news. At the end of the day, the publication ban is a moot point as over 75% of Canadian households have high-speed Internet connections. The information is right there for us to access and, without a hockey season to speak about, information provided by the blog in Minneapolis dominates water-cooler conversations from one end of the country to the other.
While the existence of the Captain’s Quarters blog itself does not threaten Prime Minister Martin’s minority government, the testimony it reports does. All three major Canadian political parties have put their staff and volunteers on notice, sign-making contracts are being signed, and the whiff of political grapeshot is in the air. At this point, the only publication running a full story on testimony that might change the face of our nation is an blog located over 200km south of our boarder.