Who would have thought that it would be the CBC in court defending the likes of the now disgraced General Cornwallis, Father of Confederation Sir John A McDonald or even our first judge, Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, while the rest of politically correct society is demanding that they be removed from public view because of their racist views. Given the mother corporation’s penchant for political correctness, I’m sure this defence was quite inadvertent, but the precedent the CBC has set may well help these historical figures now branded as pariahs to retain at least some of their legacy.
The case was one of criminal contempt against the Corporation, brought against the CBC by prosecutors in Alberta for the broadcaster’s refusal to remove a previously published story from its website. The story, and accompanying photograph, concerned a 14-year-old girl who had been killed. At the time of publication the story was completely legal and proper; the sort of story aired every day by the CBC, and simultaneously posted to its online edition.
The trouble began a few days later when a man was charged with her murder and the Crown, as it was required to do by the Youth Criminal Justice Act, sought, and was granted, a publication ban on the girl’s identity. That Act protects the identity of under-aged victims as well as youthful accused persons.
The Crown then demanded that the CBC essentially ‘un-publish’ its earlier story, by removing it from its online archive. The CBC refused, resulting in the Crown requesting a citation for criminal contempt against the Corporation.
The decision of the Supreme Court of Canada was a unanimous 9-0 ruling in favor of freedom of expression. After all, the Crown wasn’t asking print newspapers to destroy their archives, or to attempt to retrieve their printed stories from their subscribers, or from libraries.
On one level the CBC case can be confined to its particular facts, but on another perhaps stands for the proposition that you cannot order the rewriting of history by demanding the “un publishing” of historical material. So where does that leave Cornwallis, McDonald and Begbie? Well, it appears they may be safe for the time being from being excised from the history books, – but their statues ? Ah, that is something else entirely- they shouldn’t sit too comfortably upon their pedestals!