Saturday, April 12, 2008

Court changes libel law for journalists

The London Free Press,
By Rory Leishman
Under the traditional principles of the common law as affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada, journalists are no less subject than other citizens to the law of libel. Is that fair and reasonable? Or should the law of libel include a special exception for journalists to further vigorous debate on issues of public interest?
Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada served notice that it will consider this policy of the law in the context of an appeal by the Ottawa Citizen of a defamation conviction for publishing false and defamatory statements about the participation of OPP Constable Dennis Cusson in rescue operations at the World Trade Centre following the terrorist attacks of September 2001. Under the law of libel in Canada, the agents of the newspaper had only one line of defence: Like all other citizens in a similar libel action, they had to prove their defamatory statements were true.
As it turned out, the Citizen could persuade a jury in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice that only some, but not all, of its defamatory allegations against the police officer were true. On this basis, the trial judge awarded Cusson $100,000 in damages against the newspaper.
Backed by lawyers for the Globe and Mail and the Canadian Newspaper Association, counsel for the Citizen maintained in arguments before the Ontario Court of Appeal that the existing law of libel as it applies to journalists is too strict. The media lawyers called upon the court to uphold the guarantee of freedom of the press in section 2 of the Charter, by following the unprecedented ruling of the British House of Lords in Reynolds v. Times Newspapers Ltd. (2001), which held that it is a sufficient defence for journalists in a libel action to show that although they had published a false and defamatory statement, they and their editors had taken reasonable steps to ensure that the story was fair and its contents were true and accurate.
In an unanimous ruling last year, a three-judge panel of the Ontario Court of Appeal accepted this argument. Instead of upholding the law of libel as defined in a long line of precedents of the Supreme Court of Canada, these three judges on the Ontario Court of Appeal presumed to impose responsible journalism in the public interest as a defence for journalists in an Ontario libel action.
On this basis, it might be supposed that the Citizen would get off scot free, but not so. The Court of Appeal did not so much as order a new trial for the newspaper. Instead, it upheld the conviction of the Citizen on the ground that the newspaper had violated the law of libel as that law stood, before the court changed it.
Here we have a clear example of judicial activism and its chaotic consequences: There can be no rule of law, or any certainty about the requirements of the law, in a country where judges take it upon themselves to make major changes in the law as seem most appropriate to them.
In reasons for the Court of Appeal in Cusson, Mr. Justice Robert Sharpe frankly admitted that the court was imposing a far-reaching change in the law. He said: “In my view, it is open to this court to modify Ontario’s common law of defamation by adopting this new and distinctive defence if that change would accomplish a more appropriate balance between the Charter values of protection of reputation and respect for freedom of expression.”
What comes next? Upon further appeal, will judicial activists on the Supreme Court of Canada also trespass upon the legislative powers, by presuming to impose yet another change in the law of libel as seems best to them?
That remains to be seen. In the meantime, regardless of what the elected representatives of the people in the Ontario Legislature might prefer, the Ontario Court of Appeal has decreed that there shall be one law of libel for journalists in Ontario, and another for everyone else.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Duty of Faithful Anglicans

The Interim
By Rory Leishman
On Feb. 13, the members of St. John’s Shaughnessy Church in Vancouver set a good example for all faithful Anglicans, by resolving to leave the Anglican Church of Canada rather than remain under the authority of a heretical bishop.
The vote was not even close. By the overwhelming margin of 475 to 11 (with 9 abstentions), the congregation formally renounced the authority of Michael Ingham, the Anglican Bishop of New Westminster. In his stead, they placed themselves under the oversight of Bishop Don Harvey, the theologically orthodox, former Anglican Bishop of Newfoundland who currently serves within the Province of the Southern Cone which includes the Anglican Churches in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru.
The theological differences between Harvey and Ingham are profound. While Harvey upholds the truth of Christ, Ingham subscribes to pluralism. In Ingham’s words, pluralism “does not deny God's self-revelation in Christ, nor in the Koran, nor in the Torah, nor in other sacred symbols. It asks us to hold them together, despite their obvious discrepancies, in the greater mystery of faith.”
Really? This doctrine can make no sense except, perhaps, to a theological practitioner of Orwellian double-think who is adept at simultaneously holding contradictory ideas in the mind and believing all to be true.
David Short, the rector of St. John’s Shaughnessy, is a theologically orthodox Anglican priest. Like Harvey, he upholds Sacred Scripture as the ultimate authority on all questions of faith and morality. Under Short’s inspiring ministry, St. John’s Shaughnessy is the largest and most flourishing Anglican congregation in all of Canada.
In sorry contrast, the Anglican Church of Canada and the diocese of New Westminster, in particular, are dying. Thanks to the uninspiring leadership of liberals like Ingham, this once thriving denomination has declined over the past 40 years by more than 50 per cent.
The United Church of Canada, the Presbyterian Church in Canada and other liberal denominations are in a similar or worse state of decline. More and more members are leaving these churches, while their leaders ever more conform their minds to the current pattern of the world rather than uphold that good and acceptable and perfect word of God.
Regardless, church growth is not of primary concern to Short. “Even if preaching the Gospel meant we shrank,” he insists, “we would still have to be faithful.”
In 2002, Ingham broke faith with the Anglican church, by sanctioning the blessing of same sex unions within the diocese of New Westminster. In doing so, he also violated the plain teaching of Sacred Scripture and his solemn oath as a bishop to “banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word.”
As a result, Short, Packer and their ministerial colleagues at St. John’s Shaughnessy could no longer acknowledge the authority of Ingham as their bishop. And now, with the overwhelming support of their congregants, they have reluctantly quit the Anglican Church of Canada.
Meanwhile, the majority of bishops in the Anglican Church of Canada have sided with Ingham. For the past six years, they have failed to discipline him as repeatedly requested by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Moreover, while publicly professing to welcome a diversity of viewpoints within the church, some duplicitous bishops have been acting covertly to prevent Anglican parishes from recruiting and maintaining faithful priests who uphold the traditional doctrines and teachings of the Anglican church.
Under these circumstances, the duty of Anglican priests is clear: If their bishop formally repudiates the doctrines and teaching of the Anglican church on marriage or any other basic issue, they must follow the courageous example set by Short and other inspired Anglican priests who, at considerable risk to their financial security, have led their loyal congregants out of the Anglican Church of Canada and into communion with a church that is resolved to remain faithful to Christ and his commandments.
Correspondingly, the duty of Anglican congregants is also clear: They must do whatever they can to support a faithful Anglican priest; even, if need be, at the cost of giving up their comfortable pew and moving to another parish that is blessed with a prelate who can be counted upon to encourage the faithful in their devotion to Christ.

Encouraging news on abortion from Italy

Catholic Insight
By Rory Leishman
Over the past 40 years, pro-lifers in Canada have endured one defeat and disappointment after another. Yet the best have never despaired: Despite every setback, they have retained complete confidence that the truth about the sanctity of all human life must ultimately prevail.
Consider, in this respect, some encouraging news from Italy. With an Italian general election pending on April 13, the conservative Italian Opposition Leader and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi announced on Feb. 11 that he supports a proposal to have the United Nations adopt a non-binding resolution calling for an international moratorium on abortion. He said: “I think that recognising the right to life from conception to natural death is a principle that the UN could make its own, just as it (recently) did with the moratorium on the death penalty.”
In taking this stance, Berlusconi was following the lead of one of his former cabinet ministers, Giuliano Ferrara. Among Italian politicians, Ferrara is a singular character: He is a self-confessed atheist and former communist, who has transformed himself in recent years into one of Italy’s most prominent conservative journalists.
Currently, Ferrara is seeking election to parliament as leader of the “List for Life” party. He has come to understand and insist on the basis of reason alone that abortion is “evil and should be eradicated.”
In Canada, no leading politician, let alone a serious candidate for the office of prime minister, would dare to support a global ban on abortion. To do so would be the kiss of political death.
But not so in Italy. Even after disclosing his support for a United Nations moratorium on abortion, Berlusconi continued to lead in the polls. Moreover, he has also made plain that his government would not just limit its action on abortion to promoting resolutions at the United Nations.
Senator Maria Burani Procaccini, the spokeswoman on family issues for Berlusconi’s party, has announced that she will introduce legislation to tighten Italy’s abortion regulations if Berlusconi wins the election and forms a new centre-right government. Under Italy’s existing abortion law, abortion on demand is permitted during the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy; from the 13th to the 24th week, an abortion is only allowed if necessary to save the life of the mother or if the baby is seriously malformed; and after the 24th week, all abortions are absolutely forbidden.
Burani Procaccini has promised: “The new law will allow abortion only in really justified cases and within the time-frame already envisaged. There will be tough sanctions for doctors who modify their diagnosis in order to certify non-existent problems with the fetus."
There are, of course, no “really justified cases” for abortion. At least, though, Berlusconi and Burani Procaccini have indicated that they not only personally oppose all abortion, but also plan to introduce legislation to safeguard the lives of at least some babies in the womb.
Consider, in contrast, the sorry state of the politics of abortion in Canada: Both Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Opposition Leader Stephane Dion oppose any government legislation to restrict abortion: This, despite the scandalous fact that Canada is the only democracy in the world where abortion is legally permissible at any time and for any reason during a pregnancy right up to the last second before birth.
What’s wrong with Canada? Why are the leading centre-right politicians in Italy far more sensitive than any of their Canadian counterparts to the urgent need to enhance safeguards for the life of babies in the womb?
Among many contributing factors, a difference in clerical leadership stands out. In Italy, Angelo Cardinal Bagnasco, President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, was quick to speak up and commend Berlusconi for endorsing a global abortion moratorium. And on Feb. 25, Pope Benedict XVI followed up with a public statement, reaffirming his oft-repeated conviction that life should be respected “from its dawn” and “in every moment of its earthly development.”
Catholic leaders and pro-life Evangelicals in Canada should take note: By also speaking out more often and more emphatically in defense of the sanctity of all human life, they, too, could play a key role in finally persuading Parliament to place at least some curbs on abortion.