Canuck Cops Nab True Crime Writer
Byline: Charles Mandel
Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,58779,00.html
02:00 AM May. 09, 2003 PT
Anxious over a pending court case launched by an aggressive provincial government, a Canadian author voluntarily shut down his personal website Thursday.
"I pulled the whole site, not because there was anything on the remaining pages that were (sic) offensive,'' said Stephen Williams. Rather, the Canadian journalist said he was exercising "an abundance of caution" in the face of a double-barreled "criminal and civil assault" the Ontario provincial government is currently pursuing against him.
"The government is coming after me with everything they have,'' Williams said, adding that he decided to pull the site while he steps back and assesses the situation
The award-winning writer has experienced a turbulent week of jail and court injunctions.
Late last week Ontario Provincial Police arrested Williams, author of two books on the Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka case -- one of Canada's most notorious murder-rape cases -- after he began posting his extensive archive of material related to the case on his website.
Brendan Crawley, a spokesperson with the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, said he couldn't comment on the matter while it was before the courts.
Bernardo and Homolka, of St. Catharines, Ontario, are in prison for the murders of Karla's younger sister, Tammy, and teenagers Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy.
Just days after Williams started posting witness statements, videotapes and crime-scene photographs from the Bernardo-Homolka case on his website, police charged him with violating a several-year-old court order banning the publication of certain material related to the murder trial.
The Ontario Attorney General also hit Williams and his ISP, Tera-Byte Dot Com, with a public-interest injunction, alleging that some of the material identified one or more of Bernardo's other rape victims. Williams, however, had already removed the material from the site before the injunction was issued.
Canadian law stipulates that names of rape victims cannot be published.
Williams' bail is set at CN$25,000, and the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto has issued an injunction ordering him to turn over his archive of material by May 9. Williams plans to fight the injunction.
Edward Greenspan, Williams' lawyer, said, "I think there are big issues, multiple issues, in this case about seizing materials in his possession when there's no suggestion he unlawfully obtained it. How can it have anything other than a chilling effect? It's really using the law as a blunt instrument to shut up a legitimate writer."
Greenspan said Williams intends to plead not guilty to the charges.
In his two true-crime books on Bernardo and Homolka, Williams has criticized the police investigation, the Crown Attorney's prosecution work and the plea bargain they cut with Homolka. The crux of Williams' argument is that Homolka, treated as a victim in return for a manslaughter plea, should have been charged as an accomplice and charged with murder. Williams believes he's angered the authorities.
This is not the first time police have come after Williams. They charged him with violating a court ban several years ago for his first book on Paul Bernardo, Invisible Darkness. Police dithered for a year before charging the author -- two years after publication -- for viewing, then writing about, 2.5 hours of videotape whose publication was banned by court order. The charges were withdrawn 18 months later.
Writing in PEN Canada's Fall 2000 newsletter, freelance journalist John Lorinc called the charges "unprecedented."
"If the charge had resulted in a conviction, it would have marked the first time in Canadian history that a writer was found guilty of a criminal offense because of something he or she had published," Lorinc wrote.
Now the police are again scrutinizing Williams' most recent book on Homolka, Karla: A Pact with the Devil, alleging that some of the crime-scene photos included in the book may violate the publication ban.
Williams insists none of the website material violates the publication ban. His archive includes 53 volumes, each one containing 300 to 400 pages of witness statements, 300 hours of videotape and hundreds of photos.
The Toronto Globe and Mail reported some of the videotape included a "shocking video in which Ms. Homolka masquerades as her dead sister Tammy for the sexual gratification of Mr. Bernardo."
Williams noted that the material had already been extensively reviewed by lawyers while he was working as a consultant with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's investigative journalism show, The Fifth Estate.
Williams said his consulting deal allowed the CBC's lawyers and producers full access to the archives so that they could decide not only what they wanted and what they could use, but whether it was in his possession legally and whether the material could be broadcast and published in its entirety. He said the archive material cleared the legal review, and The Fifth Estate's documentary on Karla Homolka ran in April 1997.
"It (the archive) has been lawyered to death by the top lawyers in this country,'' Williams said.
Williams decided to post his archives because he believes students in such areas as law, political science and sociology might find the information useful. He called the archive a fascinating body of material and information that provides insight into the inner workings of the Crown law office.
"In the spirit of journalism, investigation and freedom of information and freedom of speech, it occurred to me that this material might be of interest to some people,'' Williams said.
Williams said the case will set a precedent, either allowing the government to suppress information that should be legally available, "or in the case that we somehow prevail, than the opposite will be true."
Canadian Internet legal expert Michael Geist said although it's rare to see court-ordered publication bans extend to the Internet, it is a logical extension of such court orders.
Geist said publication bans are highly controversial and always raise free speech concerns. "The fact that we see the same concerns arise within the context of the Internet is probably to be expected in this day and age," he said.