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Author Stephen Williams receives suspended sentence after pleading guilty to charge of breaking a publication ban

Date: Friday, January 14, 2005

Country/Topic: Canada
Source: Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Person(s): Stephen Williams
Target(s): journalist(s) , writer(s)
Type(s) of violation(s): sentenced
Urgency: Flash

(CJFE/IFEX) - The following is a CJFE press release:

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

January 14 - 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 they sustained in fighting the prosecution ensure 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 freelance 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 governments 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.

MORE INFORMATION:

For further information, contact the CJFE, 489 College Street, Suite 403, Toronto, Ontario M6G 1A5 Canada, tel: +1 416 515 9622 (x227), fax: +1 416 515 7879, e-mail: cjfe@cjfe.org, Internet: http://www.cjfe.org

Coalition applauds awarding of Hellman/Hammett Grant to author Stephen Williams

Date: Thursday, May 13, 2004

Country/Topic: Canada
Source: Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) , PEN Canada
Person(s): Stephen Williams
Target(s): writer(s)
Type(s) of violation(s): legal action
Urgency: Bulletin

(CJFE/PEN Canada/IFEX) - The following is a 12 May 2004 CJFE, PEN Canada and Writers' Union of Canada joint statement:

Awarding of Grant to Author Stephen Williams A Victory for Free Expression, Groups Say

Toronto, May 12 - Author Stephen Williams is a recipient of a 2004 Hellman/Hammett Grant - several free expression groups called this a victory for freedom of expression in Canada.

Williams, who has been critical of the Ontario provincial government for its plea bargain deal with murderer Karla Homolka, was nominated as a result of the province's unprecedented criminal and civil prosecutions against him. He faces 97 criminal charges for allegedly violating a publication ban connected to the trial of Homolka's partner, Paul Bernardo. The Ontario government is also seeking punitive damages in a civil suit claiming he was in "wrongful possession" of materials from the prosecution's brief on the Bernardo case.

"We applaud this decision to recognize Stephen Williams," said PEN Canada National Affairs Chair Chris Waddell. "His battle with the provincial government has often been a lonely one, so we are thrilled to see him receive this support from such a respected organization as Human Rights Watch."

"We are happy that Stephen Williams has received this grant, which will provide much-needed financial support for his court battle, but it should be an embarrassment to the Ontario authorities who are pursuing this case", said Arnold Amber, President of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE).

For his part, Ron Brown, Chair of the Rights and Freedoms committee of the Writers' Union of Canada, welcomed the news, adding that "the tactics used against Stephen Williams - which included a raid on his home and time spent in jail - cast a chill on those who write critically of the justice system."

CJFE, PEN Canada and the Writers' Union of Canada together comprise a new coalition to support Stephen Williams and his battle with the Ontario government. The continuing harassment of Williams, along with his partner, writer Marsha Boulton, has drained the couple financially.

The Hellman/Hammett Grants assist writers and journalists around the world who have been persecuted because of their work and are in financial need. The grant program is administered by US-based Human Rights Watch.

MORE INFORMATION:

For further information, contact Julie Payne, at CJFE, 489 College Street, Suite 403, Toronto, Ontario M6G 1A5 Canada, tel: +1 416 515 9622, fax: +1 416 515 7879, e-mail: jpayne@cjfe.org, Internet: http://www.cjfe.org; or David Cozac, at PEN Canada, 24 Ryerson Ave., Suite 214, Toronto, ON, M5T 2P3 Canada, tel: +1 416 703 8448, fax: +1 416 703 3870, e-mail: dcozac@pencanada.ca, Internet: http://www.pencanada.ca; or the Writer's Union of Canada, tel: +1 416 504 9090, e-mail: ron.brown8@sympatico.ca

 

CJFE calls for end to criminal prosecution of author

Date: Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Country/Topic: Canada
Source: Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Person(s): Stephen Williams
Target(s): writer(s)
Type(s) of violation(s): charged , harassed
Urgency: Bulletin

(CJFE/IFEX) - The following is a CJFE media release:

Toronto, December 9, 2003

The Ontario Attorney General must end immediately the criminal prosecution of author Stephen Williams, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) said in a position paper issued today and available at:

www.cjfe.org/specials/williams/Stephen%20Williams.doc

CJFE also announced it has contributed CA$5,000 towards Williams's legal defence costs as he prepares to fight a civil suit brought against him, also by the Ontario Attorney General. We invite others to do the same.

"The Stephen Williams case should alarm anyone who believes in the right to free expression, the right to criticize public officials, and the right to write," CJFE Executive Director Joel Ruimy said.

"Williams faces 97 criminal charges and a civil lawsuit, both brought by a provincial government with deep pockets. He has already spent a night in jail - all of this because he wrote two books critical of police and prosecutors in the Bernardo-Homolka case."

In addition to calling for an end to the prosecution of Williams, the eight-page CJFE paper recommends that governments develop new, more transparent, legislation on publication bans. We note that Williams was charged with violating one or more publication bans which themselves are secret. CJFE also calls for an end to the practice of jailing people for publishing banned information where no threat to the community is posed.

CJFE is an association of 400 journalists, editors, producers, publishers, students and other advocates of free expression who work to preserve and promote media freedom and free expression.

MORE INFORMATION:

For further information, please contact Joel Ruimy at CJFE, 489 College Street, Suite 403, Toronto, Ontario M6G 1A5 Canada, tel: +1 416 515 9622, fax: +1 416 515 7879, e-mail: cjfe@cjfe.org, Internet: http://www.cjfe.org

PEN Canada condemns actions taken by law enforcement authorities against author

Date: Friday, October 24, 2003

Country/Topic: Canada
Source: PEN Canada
Person(s): Stephen Williams
Target(s): writer(s)
Type(s) of violation(s): charged , harassed
Urgency: Flash

(PEN Canada/IFEX) - The following is a 23 October 2003 PEN Canada press release:

Charges Against Canadian Author a Threat to Freedom of Expression

TORONTO, October 23, 2003 - All Canadians should be extremely concerned about the threat to freedom of expression posed by the decision to lay a series of new charges against author Stephen Williams, PEN Canada said today.

"Canadians should be watching this case very closely as actions taken by the authorities to date bear all the signs of attempts to intimidate and harass Mr. Williams in a conscious and deliberate attempt to curtail his freedom of expression," said Christopher Waddell, Chair of PEN Canada's National Affairs Committee.

"Efforts by law enforcement authorities to silence critics in this fashion have no place in Canada," added PEN Canada's president, Haroon Siddiqui. "It is simply unacceptable and intolerable to harass a writer in this way for what he or she has written."

While the courts are the proper place to assess the charges of violating court orders laid against Mr. Williams, PEN Canada condemns three specific actions taken by the law enforcement authorities in this case to date.

1 - Police actions against Mr. Williams

On two separate occasions Mr. Williams' residence was raided by squads of police in the very early morning. In the first raid, in May, Mr. Williams was arrested and held in jail over night. Mr. Williams is not a violent criminal and he has not been charged with violent offences. He poses absolutely no risk or threat to the safety and security of society. There is no excuse or explanation for jailing a writer in Canada in the absence of a criminal conviction for something he or she has written. This action is nothing more than a crude attempt at harassment and intimidation of Mr. Williams that is not worthy of this country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

2 - A fishing expedition by law enforcement authorities

In his writings, Mr. Williams has been very critical of the work of police, Crown Attorneys and the Office of the Attorney General of Ontario, with some of his conclusions perhaps relying on information from confidential sources. The raids and confiscation of Mr. Williams' property bear all the signs of a fishing expedition by police trying to determine the identities of those confidential sources. The ability of a writer or journalist to protect his or her sources is fundamental to freedom of expression. PEN Canada concludes that the actions of law enforcement authorities in this case amount to trying to discover Mr. Williams' sources, presumably to punish him, and therefore condemns these actions.

3 - Confiscation of property by police

During the course of a July raid on Mr. Williams' premises, computers and other materials belonging to him and his wife, writer Marsha Boulton, were confiscated and to date have not been returned to either of them. This is also unwarranted and amounts to harassment and an attempt to deny both Mr. Williams and his wife the ability to earn a living. While the police have every right to take material they believe to be relevant to an investigation, there is no acceptable excuse or explanation for holding for months computers or material that bear no relation to the subject of the investigation. That material should have been returned within days of the raid to allow Mr. Williams and his wife to continue with their lives. The deliberate failure to do so effectively punishes Mr. Williams and his wife financially, by denying them access to their livelihoods, and is an unconscionable action for the police to take against someone who has been charged but not convicted.

Regardless of the outcome of the court action, PEN Canada believes no writer in Canada or anywhere else in the world should be treated in this fashion simply for practicing his or her profession. PEN Canada calls on law enforcement authorities in Ontario to explain why they have consistently and inappropriately treated a writer as if he were a violent and dangerous criminal who posed an imminent threat to society, punishing him in the absence of any conviction.

About PEN Canada

PEN Canada is committed to defending freedom of opinion and the peaceable expression of such opinion, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It campaigns on behalf of writers around the world persecuted for the peaceful expression of their thoughts. In Canada, it supports the right to freedom of expression as enshrined in Section 2 (b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. PEN Canada is a center of International PEN, the worldwide writers' association founded in England in 1921.

MORE INFORMATION:

For further information, contact Isobel Harry (ext. 22), Executive Director, PEN Canada, 24 Ryerson Ave., Suite 214, Toronto, ON, M5T 2P3 Canada, tel: +1 416 703 8448, fax: +1 416 703 3870, e-mail: pen@pencanada.ca or iharry@pencanada.ca, Internet: http://www.pencanada.ca/

 

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