U.S. blogger thwarts Canadian gag order

Minnesota man is thumbing his nose at a Canadian gag order. His blog posts could endanger the ruling Liberal Party.

Canada's long-standing practice of barring news organizations from disclosing what's happening in certain court proceedings is being tested by Internet bloggers.

A Canadian commission that's investigating charges of high-level wrongdoing in the nation's Liberal Party has ordered news organizations not to reveal details from the proceedings, which are open to the public.

But Ed Morrissey, a conservative Web logger in Minneapolis, has been gleefully violating the ban by posting detailed reports of the verboten "Adscam" testimony. Public revelation of Adscam, which involves allegations of corruption and illegal campaign contributions, could end the Liberal Party's precarious grasp on power and force new elections this summer.

Since that unauthorized publication, provided by a confidential source who claims to have been present during the proceedings, Morrissey's Captain's Quarters blog has become overwhelmed by visits from curious Canadians. His usual average of 30,000 page views a day skyrocketed during the weekend to more than 400,000, according to SiteMeter.com, and the site was unreachable for part of Tuesday. Canada has even been lampooned in a cartoon because of the proceedings.

Morrissey now has laryngitis as a result of a rapid-fire series of interviews from Canadian news organizations. He's found them a bit bizarre. "They can't ask me about the case itself because they can't reproduce anything that has to do with the testimony," Morrissey said in an interview. "They can't ask me about my blog because they can't reproduce the URL."

Canadian publications and bloggers have been left in the difficult position of attempting to describe the violation of a judicial order without revealing which Web site did it. The National Post claimed it could not mention Morrissey by name, and one blogger in Toronto wrote that "I have avoided linking to the U.S. blogger in question. I also deleted a comment someone posted" with alleged Adscam testimony.

Canada's attorney general is investigating the legality of the U.S. blog posting. Government lawyers may charge Canadian Web publishers with contempt of court if they reproduce some of the Adscam testimony or perhaps even link to Morrissey's blog, the Toronto Sun reported.

That announcement is prompting Morrissey to worry about two possibilities: his confidential source being scared away, and a vacation that his family has planned in nearby Canada. "They can find me in contempt of court," he said. "That's fine. I just won't travel to Canada until it expires."

Canada's latest woes aren't the first time its publication ban has been thwarted by the Internet. Grisly details of the Karla Homolka murder trial were circulated on the Usenet newsgroup alt.fan.karla-homolka in 1994 in defiance of a gag order. An issue of Wired Magazine that mentioned the Usenet disclosure was even yanked from Canadian newsstands.

James Rossiter, a media lawyer with the Canadian law firm Wickwire Holm said, "Canadians are as interested in the testimony that's come out in the last few days as they were in the Homolka case. But what's different in 2005 is that there are computers on every desk and the Internet is on every computer."

Rossiter said that Canadian courts and quasi-judicial officers such as the Adscam commissioner are permitted to hand down publication bans as a way of protecting the right to a fair trial--by preventing jurors from being exposed to material they're not supposed to see. Unlike in many U.S. trials, Canadian jurors are not sequestered from the media and their families and are permitted to go home every day.

In a 1994 case, Dagenais v. Canadian Broadcasting Corp., the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that publication bans were consistent with the nation's charter of rights and freedoms.

"The testimony that has been delivered in a shroud of secrecy may lead to a more explosive political scandal than either of our countries has seen since Nixon," Rossiter said. "And we're left to learn about this from Americans."

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