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REPORTING · 25th December 2009
Merv Ritchie
It was a Christmas present for the Haisla Nation from the Supreme Court of Canada’s Appellate Court. On December 22, 2009 under a ruling cited as; ‘Grant v. Torstar Corp., 2009 SCC 61’ the Supreme Court determined the publishing of information based on truth and in the public interest was not up for defamation actions. There are limits to what type of published information is protected however the right to openly discuss corruption of public officials has just been delivered an extra measure of security.

Previously the law was much the same. The media was protected by two basic principles when discussing the actions of individuals and corporations; Is it a matter of public interest and Is it the truth. The public interest side of the equation has generally been an easy issue to determine. The truth of the published material is a matter which has led to many threats of lawsuits and assessments of damages. This is what has been behind the Haisla vs Steve Wilson et al trial the Terrace and Kitimat Daily News has been covering over the past year. The trial has been attempting to determine if the published material was true or was it malicious innuendo causing reputation harm to the former Kitamaat Chief Councillor Steve Wilson and his entire Council

The ruling by the highest Court in Canada has been challenged by the final and unalterable decisions of the last levels of the appeals process. Only an Act of Parliament by the Government and Senate of Canada over ruling the Charter of Rights and Freedoms could change the law today and this is very unlikely. The continuance of the lawsuit where Steve Wilson and the Kitamaat Village Council are suing members of their Nation for questioning the actions of the elected ‘Steve Wilson’ Council would be irresponsible at best. Worse, should the action not be dropped, it would represent a malicious waste of time and money for the sake of false dignity as a BC lower Court decision ruling in favour of Wilson et al would be easily appealed and won at the Supreme Court of Canada.

Direct from the text of the ruling we have this statement regarding the right to publish material that probes at the truth but which might not be “Courtroom verifiable truth”;

The current law with respect to statements that are reliable and important to public debate does not give adequate weight to the constitutional value of free expression. The first two rationales for the freedom of expression guarantee in s. 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — the proper functioning of democratic governance and getting at the truth — squarely apply to communications on matters of public interest, even those which contain false imputations. Freewheeling debate on matters of public interest is to be encouraged and the vital role of the communications media in providing a vehicle for such debate is explicitly recognized in the text of s. 2(b) itself. While the law must protect reputation, the current level of protection — in effect a regime of strict liability — is not justifiable. The law of defamation accords no protection for statements on matters of public interest published to the world at large if they cannot be proven to be true. To insist on court established certainty in reporting on matters of public interest may have the effect not only of preventing communication of facts which a reasonable person would accept as reliable and which are relevant and important to public debate, but also of inhibiting political discourse and debate on matters of public importance, and impeding the cut and thrust of discussion necessary to discovery of the truth. Although the right to free expression does not confer a licence to ruin reputation, when proper weight is given to the constitutional value of free expression on matters of public interest, the balance tips in favour of broadening the defences available to those who communicate facts it is in the public’s interest to know.

Wilson, by his actions, provided two examples of the benefits to this new ruling and the far reaching effects of this Christmas gift for the Haisla Nation and all others who wish to write about suspected nefarious deeds of our elected officials.

In the first example; the Court case Wilson et al initiated was referred to as a ‘Slap Lawsuit’ when it was started in 2008. This is a term applied when someone sues for slander or libel to force the writer or publisher to ‘Shut up’. Right or wrong, a lawsuit threatening financial burden generally convinces the person threatened to withdraw and settle; agreeing to stop the exposure of the actions. In the Wilson vs Haisla trial however, most of the defendants chose to continue to defend themselves for the right to say what they said and wrote despite not having money to hire a lawyer.

The depth of the lawsuit goes directly to the office of the Premier of British Columbia. See an article on the lawsuit and the letter Wilson wrote to BC Premier Campbell HERE.

A search on this site using one of the word; Haisla, Wilson, KVC or Kitamaat will provide links to many articles on this issue.

The history of this with links to many published stories can be found HERE

In regards to the truth of the allegations, as has now been determined to be a ‘non fixed’ issue, meaning the “Truth” does not have to be proven, we provide the following link. This is to an article on Wilsons behaviour while providing evidence as to the “Truth” and demonstrates why this new Supreme Court ruling is so valuable to the discovery of fraudulent behaviour. Read it

The second example Steve Wilson has provided, demonstrating the value of this Christmas gift from the Supreme Court, is related to the RCMP attending the Kitamaat Village Offices with a search warrant. This was to remove secret recording equipment, which was installed while Steve Wilson was the Chief Councillor. We reported on this in three articles. The first was when we were made aware of the execution of the search warrant HERE.

The second article was after we received confirmation from the RCMP HERE.

The third was after we questioned Wilson regarding the matter HERE.

This third story concerns the actions of Wilson attending the offices of the local First Nations radio station who picked up the story on the RCMP executing the search warrant. He verbally assaulted the receptionist and later the station retracted their reference to Wilson being involved. It appears this media organization was feeling threatened by the potential of Wilson launching a legal action for yet another defamation suit.

It is this final ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that will now allow the local, Regional, Provincial and National media organizations to write more freely without fear of vindictive wrong doers using the protection of the very expensive court and legal processes to cover their questionable deeds.

The Supreme Court went even further. The ruling did not apply only to professional media organizations. It protects Online News organizations such as this one, internet blogs and periodicals or publications such as that which was produced in the Kitamaat Village by the Elders and Hereditary Chiefs under the heading Haisla Hemaas.

A new day has dawned for the media and online news to expose and inform the public of the actions and deeds of those who would previously be protect by the use of a ‘Slap Lawsuit’. This comes just in time for the Haisla as the continuation of the Wilson et al vs the Haisla resumes in the beginning of January 2010; that is unless common sense pevails.

The full court ruling can be read HERE.