Friday, July 13, 2012

SLAPP HAPPY OR BITCH SLAP


Another SLAPP or a demand for accountability?

Former Premier Danny Williams is suing a local blogger for comments made on his piece of  internet real estate, Rock Solid Politics.

The blogger, who was denied an opportunity to seek the Progressive Conservative Leadership when Williams resigned has morphed into an outspoken critic of Williams and the local PC Party. Last summer, Brad Cabana sought the leadership of the capricious Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador. Judging by obnoxious twitter/facebook posts from party and opposition staff, he is no more welcome in the Liberal camp than with his former buddies, the Progressive Conservatives.

That said, like a new age Energizer Bunny, the zealous convert has feverishly followed the machinations of iron ore and hydro development in Labrador.  He has been trying to jam round pegs into square holes to create an atmosphere of conspiracy which links political, bureaucratic and big business via a connect the dot process.

He is not alone, other bloggers have pioneered the bandwagon conspiracy show.

So, what gives in this case? Has Danny Williams notoriously thin skin finally had enough of the cross checks to his reputation, or is this a case of big money trying to silence critics?

Where does responsible public participation end and defamation begin?  How does government protect public participation/commentary on public issues without individuals fearing frivolous litigation? The limits of freedom of expression on matters of public interest are already the subject of extensive Canadian jurisprudence, which continues to address the issue on a case by case basis.


Early this year, I took some offense to the chatter on some of these local blogs when the reputation of a retired senior career civil servant was kicked around as part of the grand conspiracy theory. I felt that the blogger in question had crossed the line. Public commentary, observations and opinions are one thing - cock-eyed conspiracy theories that have the potential to damage the reputations of individuals who have provided great service to this province are another.
It will be interesting to watch this case. Can…will, the plaintiffs be able to prove that the protected activity of public participation has been exceeded?  

If, as some critics allege, that these lawsuits alleging false and defamatory allegations, fails to hold-up in court, than the courts should sanction the plantifs for wasting the time of the justice system. Significant punitive financial measures should be taken to ensure that the rich and powerful are not launching frivolous lawsuits to dissuade public opinion and commentary.

In light of the circus that was five year saga of John Hickey’s frivolous defamation case against former Premier Roger Grimes, the Minister of Justice needs to implement a committee to review how our courts deal with attempts to use the court to stymie public opinion. For starters, a fast track approach to dealing with such cases should be implemented. A test to determine if the defamation charge is valid should be established. If the plaintiff fails to meet the test, the charges should be dismissed with costs should be awarded to the defendant. The government should also consider establishing some sort of civil defense fun that helps defend individuals in these types of proceedings.

Our democracy is founded on citizen engagement. If we are forced underground, or are silenced, than democracy is threatened. As a person who has participated in public discussions for decades, I know the importance of protecting individual rights. Those of us that engage in public discussion often walk a fine line. There was a period, when I resorted to writing under a pseudonym because I feared the repercussions of using my own name. I have had to resort to the courts for remedies.  I know that my scribbles can, and do impact my professional progression. It is my choice to contribute to the public discussion, I understand, and know the inherent risks.

That said, the laws of the land have to reflect the changes in technology, the forums for discussion and the passion of debate. As voter engagement declines at the ballot box, we need more voices to encourage more debate, discussion to effect meaningful change. Agents of change, voices of reason and passion need to be protected against frivolous law suits designed to curb public engagement and accountability.

8 comments:

Brad Cabana said...

Peter, whether a person is welcome , or not, in any given political party does not reflect their ability to form reasoned thought. It does not preclude them from having a voice on important issues of the day, or any issues for that matter.Your dismissive "conspiracy theorist" comments display a type of arrogance that I have become used to hearing from you. You do not have a monopoly on the truth. You are not "all knowing".You have had your share of political problems, which unlike you, I would not trott out to discredit you.You don't agree with my conclusions - fine.At least respect the fact that others have a different take on things than you.

Peter L. Whittle said...

Brad:

I am not in anyway dismissing your right to express an opinion. I disagree with your "conspiratorial" approach but in now diminish the contribution you make. In fact, we are on the same page more often than not.

As for "had your share of political problems, which unlike you, I would not trott out to discredit you"..what are you talking about? Is there something in my political closet that I might be ashamed of or something?

We may have exchanged a few tough tweets over SNC. Peckford or Dean, but I have not ever questioned your contribution to the political culture or public affairs in this province.

As for knowing it all and being arrogant. Yea, I have oft been accused of being arrogant. It is something that I have worked hard to change.

On the know it all. I have had a lot of experience in the local political scene, and my opinions and knowledge are based on that.

You need to mellow a little man. I certainly have not treated you with the contempt illustrated by paid party staffers who should know their place in the organizations that foot the bill.

Sorry if my opinion rubbed you the wrong way, but I call it as I see it!

Anonymous said...

Peter...I though you offered a fair appraisal of this ongoing issue. As for the Cabin boy, at some point one must realize that it might not be that the world is messed-up.

Anonymous said...

Cabana said "You do not have a monopoly on the truth. You are not "all knowing"."

Sheesh.....For a minute there, I thought Cabana was referring to another blogger, whose blog he has frequented and posted comments in.

Anonymous said...

Civil courts have become the playground of the rich. You need dollars to pursue or defend an action and those with deep pockets know that. It would be a good idea for a screening process but I suspect that too would be overtaken by the well monied.

Anonymous said...

Brad Cabana is out to lunch.

Wm. Murphy said...

Brad...your public history has been one of being a conspiracy theorist since you have come on the "scene". there is no denying that you have been preaching that there is always something nefarious lurking under the covers....case in point: your recent comments about Williams.
That's fine...whatever floats your boat I guess....but the issue is that not ONCE have I heard you lay out a shred of proof or evidence about ANY of your claims. Nada...zilch ...zip!
You are all conjecture and speculation without a thing to back up your claims.

Next thing we will hear is... "I wish I could comment further, but it is before the courts"

@mcmanustheautho said...

I do find it ironic that Danny Williams can make public statements through the media - "Someone should take Andy Wells out back and give him a shit knocking" (Williams then part owner of St. John's Maple Leafs) or "They should be taken out back and shot" (Premier Williams on another Eastern Health breast cancer mistake).

Yet, comments on an open line show can cause Williams and a mining corporation he is a part of to head to the courts.

I confess I am not impressed with the views of bloggers like Cabana and Shannon Reardon, as in my view, they represent fringe values.

However, it seems to me that Danny Williams and Alderon are making this much bigger than it needed to be.

By example, I never heard the comments on open line so was not aware of them.

Once the lawsuit was filed in Court, I heard the alleged offending comment on 3 seperate occasions in a single Here and Now broadcast and twice more the following evening.

By his actions, the comments Williams finds offensive have reached a far wider audience than if he let the issue die the day the comments were made because no one takes Cabana seriously.

Bad strategy Mr. Williams.