Pyrrhic Victory for Author is a Step Backwards for Free Expression in Canada.

Friday, January 14, 2005
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is disappointed and dismayed at the outcome of the prosecution of journalist and author Stephen Williams by the Ontario government. After a long and costly court battle Stephen Williams today accepted a plea bargain offered by the government. Mr. Williams received a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to a single charge of breaking a publication ban. He received three years probation and was ordered to perform community service. This will leave him with a criminal record, which may mark the first time a Canadian writer has received a criminal record for his writing. CJFE has long supported Stephen Williams in his fight against the state and the use of secret publication bans, selective prosecution and prosecutorial conflict of interest. We welcome the possibility that Stephen Williams and his partner Marsha Boulton may finally be able to move on with their lives and careers. But, the heavy losses that they sustained in fighting the prosecution, ensures that this is a pyrrhic victory at best, and certainly a serious loss for free expression in Canada. The highly unusual dual criminal-civil prosecution of Mr. Williams involved 97 criminal charges for allegedly violating a publication ban connected to the trial of infamous serial killer Paul Bernardo. The cases could have lasted years as they made their way slowly through the courts, and would have effectively bankrupted the author and his partner in the process. "CJFE supported Stephen Williams in what was often a very lonely battle" stated CJFE Executive Director Rod Macdonell. "But, despite the fact that we helped contribute to his defence fund, it was becoming increasingly clear that one free-lance writer is simply no match for the deep pockets of the Ontario government." This outcome sends a chilling message to journalists and writers who express criticism of police and judicial actions in Ontario. It also sets a dangerous precedent for prosecution of journalists who acquire access to crown materials that the government deems sensitive and upon which they may have enacted secret publication bans. Stephen Williams did what journalists are supposed to do - tackle a difficult story and, in the process, shine a light on the inner workings of the justice system. Journalists must be free to do this without fear of prosecution by the very figures whose conduct they question. CJFE is an association of more than 300 journalists, editors, publishers, producers, students and others who work to promote and defend free expression and press freedom in Canada and around the world. For more information, contact Rod Macdonell at (416) 515-9622 x.227 or e-mail: cjfe@cjfe.org

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