Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Thank you note to Charles Leblanc

Dear Charles,

I commend you for your excellent reporting on your blog.  You provide valuable insight on events around the province and on the workings of our governments that is not available elsewhere.

Your probing coverage illuminates injustices that were previously hidden, obscured and glossed over.  You speak for the disenfranchised with a true voice.  Your findings reveal an ugly side of our society and resonate with all who care for open, equitable democracy.

Some do not appreciate the light you shed.  They have tried to silence you.  They banned you from our legislature, threw you in jail, and put you through the courts.  When that failed, they now try a frontal assault on your freedom of speech.  In a democracy that kind of tyranny is only possible when thousands, even a majority, are complicit.

In 1982, I was a student in law school.  A great man of the time, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, achieved his great ambition of enshrining a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in our constitution where it would be untouchable when times change and governments change their minds.

I confess that at the time I was not excited about the Charter.  It was nice words on a page, truisms that no one disputed.  I had such faith in Canadian democracy, and the Canadian people, that I did not appreciate Trudeau’s intense desire for this law.

I was naive.  Times have changed.  Greed, cynicism and fear have replaced the bold idealism of the previous era.

Only in the days after your arrest on January 19 did I begin to understand the past that Trudeau knew and the future he feared.  That future is here.

The Charter is there for you.  The guarantee of free speech is precisely to prevent tyrants silencing critics who seek only truth, justice and equity.

I thank you Charles for what you do and for showing me why we need a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, even in Canada.

Yours truly,

Peter Dauphinee

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Charles' Legislature Ban - Democratic Deficit and Credibility Chasm

Charles Banned – Or is he?
Mysteries continue to shroud the ban of Charles Leblanc from the Legislature of New Brunswick in 2006.  

On June 19, 2006, shortly after his arrest at the Atlantica Conference, Charles received papers indicating that he was banned from the legislature indefinitely.  Various reasons were given, none of them specific.  The CBC news report of June 20, 2006 states:

A New Brunswick blogger and political activist has been permanently barred from entering any buildings or stepping on any property within the provincial legislature district in Fredericton.

Charles LeBlanc, a prolific blogger who writes about poverty and the province's political and corporate power brokers on his website, was issued the barring notice on June 19. 

The notice, posted on LeBlanc's blog, accuses him of demonstrating "unacceptable behaviour within the legislative precincts, which has included harassment and disrespectful behaviour toward legislative staff, members of the Security Detail and members of the public."

The notice includes a map of the district, with lines drawn around the streets where LeBlanc is prohibited from walking.

If LeBlanc refuses to stay away, the notice says he will be charged with assault under the Criminal Code of Canada. The notice is signed by the legislature's Sergeant-at-Arms Dan Bussières.

Bussières says fewer than half a dozen other individuals have also been barred from the legislature grounds.

David Peterson served as clerk of the New Brunswick legislature between 1978 and 1993, and says nobody was ever banned during his time on the job. He said MLAs resisted his attempts to tighten security at the house because they didn't want to limit access from the public.

"We had people practically push the doors off the hinges and they've never done anything like that," Peterson said.

The notice does not give LeBlanc any right of appeal, or offer any venue to argue whether the ban is appropriate.

Peterson, now a lawyer in private practice, said the threat of an assault charge is strange.  "I would love to be the defence lawyer for somebody who is just passively sitting on the front steps of the legislature [and is charged with assault]. It seems a fair stretch."

The legislature's administration committee approved the ban, including Liberal house leader Kelly Lamrock, who says his office must protect its staff from harassment.

"There are cases where security decisions are made for the well-being of members or the staff people," Lamrock said. "And there is an employer's responsibility to protect employees. Those have to be balanced with the very, very, very high duty to keep parliament open and accessible to everyone."

But Liberal MLA Abel LeBlanc says banning the blogger just doesn't make sense. "I disagree with Charlie being barred from the legislature. I disagree. Everybody has the right to come to the legislature. Their favourite saying, the Tories, is that 'It's the people's house.' Well, he's a person and he should have the right."

LeBlanc has gained notoriety in recent weeks for attempting to join New Brunswick's legislature press gallery and getting arrested at a trade conference in Saint John.
The barring notice comes just days after the arrest, which happened as LeBlanc began photographing a group of protesters as they stormed into a meeting of business leaders in Saint John.

LeBlanc spent four hours in jail, and says police deleted all the photos from his digital camera. He is due in court next month to face a charge of obstructing justice.

Shannon Hagerman reported in the Telegraph-Journal of June 21, 2006 as follows:
Mr. LeBlanc said he’s disappointed at the order and he’s not sure what he’ll do next.
“I am the man on the street and I confront politicians on a number of issues. Maybe, some of the politicians-we don’t know who they are- said ‘Enough is enough. We have to get rid of him.’”

Mr. LeBlanc, a critic of the Conservative government, spends hours every day at the legislature snapping photos of the media, politicians, civil servants and even corporate business executives who drop by the legislature to visit.
The Legislative Administrative Committee, made up of Conservative and Liberal MLAs, made the decision to ban Mr. LeBlanc from the property two weeks ago.
The group held the meeting in private.
Speaker Michael (Tanker) Malley, who chairs the committee, declined interviews about the subject Tuesday but read a brief statement.

“The individual concerned was warned a number of times and given ample opportunities to refrain from harassing personnel and guests, this and to no avail,” Mr. Malley said. “As an employer, the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick is committed to providing a work environment in which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity.”
The order is final and it doesn’t appear Mr. LeBlanc has any rights to appeal.
“I learned last year I was labelled as a security risk and I don’t really know the reason besides he told me I was harassing people, harassing the public when they were going in and I asked him who I was harassing but he never said,” he said.

He denies he has harassed anyone, but admits he does take pictures and talk to provincial MLAs about various issues.
Liberal house leader Kelly Lamrock, who is a member of the committee that banned Mr. LeBlanc, said he supported the proposal when it came forward.

The proposal had been brought to the committee before, but MLAs rejected barring Mr. LeBlanc, Mr. Lamrock said.

In his most recent case, the committee felt it had no choice, he said.

But not all provincial MLAs agree with the order. Two members of the Liberal caucus, Southwest Miramichi MLA Rick Brewer and Saint John Lancaster MLA Abel LeBlanc said they feel the order is an extreme reaction.

“Specifically barring someone from the legislature is totally, totally wrong as far as I am concerned. I am here. I got elected by the people and you know he’s a person. If he comes here and asks me for anything, I do it for him,” said Abel LeBlanc.

He credits the anti-poverty activist for bringing issues to his attention, like individuals being denied social assistance or having a hard time finding housing.

“Charlie LeBlanc has been an outstanding guy as far as I am concerned. He’s the voice of a lot of people that are listening to him.”

Charles wrote his account of how the banning came about in a blog entry of June 20, 2006.  He claims he knew the rules legislature and followed them.  It is clear that he had a difficult relationship with House Sergeant- at-Arms Dan Bussières for the three years leading up to that point.  Charles states he never received a signed copy of the “Barring Notice”, leading to a question if the ban was ever formally passed.  A copy of the document that was presented to him by Dan Bussières on June 20, 2006 states:

You have demonstrated unacceptable behaviour within the legislative precincts which has included harassment and disrespectful behaviour toward legislative staff, members of the Security Details, and members of the public.

I hereby give you notice that you are no longer allowed on the sidewalks, paths, flowerbeds, lawns of the Legislative Assembly Building, the Departmental Building and the Old Education Building of Parliament Square located between King and Queen Streets, St. John Street and Secretary Lane as well as Edgecombe House, 736 King Street, Jewett House, 96 Secretary Lane in the City of Fredericton.

This barring notice shall stay in effect for an indefinite period.

The Legislative Assembly goes to great lengths to ensure the right of members of the public to be heard and to peacefully protest and to articulate points of view.  However, the Legislative Assembly has a responsibility to provide a safe and secure environment for members, staff and visitors to the legislative precincts without disruption or interference.  If you choose to disregard the directives and authority of House officials, I will have no alternative but to but to seek your removal by the police authorities from Parliament Square grounds.  Your refusal to comply forthwith may be deemed to be an assault, contrary to and in violation of Subsection 41 (2) of the Criminal Code of Canada.

Prelude to the Ban

In the three years leading up to the ban, Charles spent a lot of time at the legislature.  In September, 2005, he was offered a job by a contractor repairing a ceiling at the legislature.  No sooner had Charles begun the job when he was let go because Dan Bussières labelled him a security risk.  It was the first time Charles had learned that he was a security risk.  He filed a complaint with the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission.

The Human Rights complaint was dismissed in August, 2006 on the ground that the commission had no jurisdiction over the action of the legislature due to parliamentary privilege.  Materials filed with the Commission in responding to the complaint provide details of the alleged security risk posed by Charles.  Loredana Catalli Sonier, Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, swore the following in an affidavit:

26.          On March 22, 2005, due to ongoing security risks posed by the complainant herein, Charles LeBlanc, the Legislative Administration Committee reviewed the matter of visitor access given to Mr. LeBlanc to the Legislative Assembly Building.  The Committee directed the Sergeant-at-Arms and me to continue to closely monitor Mr. LeBlanc and to report back to the Committee, if necessary.

27.          The complainant, Charles LeBlanc, has protested on the grounds of the Legislative Assembly since the summer of 2003 when he set up a tent in front of the Legislature Building.  On December 4, 2003, he was served notice by the Sergeant-at-Arms to voluntarily remove his tend for health and security reasons, but refused to comply.

28.          On December 12, 2003, an opposition Member of the Legislative Assembly tabled in the Legislature a petition signed by concerned citizens who maintained that Ritalin was over-prescribed in New Brunswick.  The petition was organized by Mr. LeBlanc and at that point he had occupied the grounds of the legislature for 180 days to bring attention to the concerns of children suffering from attention deficit disorders.  He vacated the grounds after the petition was tabled in the House, but since that time Mr. LeBlanc has maintained a constant presence at the Legislative Assembly.

29.          Mr. LeBlanc frequently loiters within the lobby of the main Assembly building and can be found on or near the grounds of the Assembly on an almost daily basis.

30.          Mr. Bussières has advised me, and I believe, that Mr. LeBlanc has demonstrated much disrespect for the security staff at the Legislative Assembly.  He has posted on his website the names and pictures of the security staff [See Exhibit “D” attached].  Mr. LeBlanc has posted pictures on his website of security measures being implemented at the Legislature [Exhibit “E” attached <also see here>].  This has included taking pictures of security cameras and drawing attention to their placement in and around the Legislative buildings [Exhibit “F” attached].

31.          Mr. LeBlanc has shown disregard for numerous policies in place at the Legislature.  For instance, although it is prohibited, he has taken at least one picture in the Gallery and posted it on his website [Exhibit “G” attached].  Although it is prohibited, he has taken pictures in the Legislative Chambers and posted them on his website [Exhibit “H” attached <also see here>].  He has posted photographs of Members of the Legislative Assembly and their personal vehicles while parked at the Legislature, including their licence plate numbers [Exhibit “I” attached<also see here><also see here>].

32.          Mr. Bussières has advised me, and I believe, that on numerous occasions, Mr. LeBlanc has been unnecessarily loud and rude, disrupting staff and interrupting guests during their visits to the Assembly.  He has frequently been critical of Legislature staff and has at times interfered in their day to day duties, interrupting them and interjecting himself into private conversations.

33.          Mr. Bussières has advised me, and I believe, that Mr. LeBlanc approaches Members of the Legislative Assembly as they go about their daily work, confronting them as they enter or leave the main building or their adjacent offices.  He has often loitered within the building itself while the House is in session and approaches Members, staff and other individuals.

34.          On March 12, 2005, an article entitled “The Question is not if the Legislature will be attack (sic) but when???” appeared on Mr. LeBlanc’s website.  A copy of the article is attached hereto as Exhibit “J”.  Mr. Bussières brought the article to my attention on March 14, 2005, and at that time told me that in his opinion while Mr. LeBlanc posed no threat, he does pose a security risk when he broadcasts Legislature operational details and comments on security related issues to an unknown audience on his website.  On March 14, 2005, I agreed with Mr. Bussières assessment of Mr. LeBlanc as a security risk insofar as the Legislative Precinct is concerned and such concern by Mr. Bussières and me continues to this day [Mr. Bussières has confirmed this to me].

In the Legislative Assembly’s response to Charles’ Human Rights complaint, Fredericton Lawyer Donald J. Stevenson argued successfully that the Legislature has an inherent right to control its processes free from review by other adjudicative bodies.  Because of this parliamentary privilege, the Human Rights Commission could not rule on the complaint itself.

Mr. Stevenson quoted case law at length to establish important principles behind the privilege:

Given that legislatures are representative and deliberative institutions, those privileges ultimately serve to protect the democratic nature of those bodies.  (Ref re Remuneration of Judges of the Prov. Court of P.E.I. [1997] 3 SCR 3 at para.101)

The legislative body needs this legal protection or immunity to perform its function and to defend and vindicate its authority and dignity.  The Members of the legislative body enjoy these rights and immunities because the legislature cannot act or perform without the unimpeded use of the services of its Members.  (Maingot, Joseph.  Parliamentary Privilege in Canada.  2d ed. (House of Commons and McGill-Queens University Press, 1997) at 12)

Some examples of the privilege include “the general freedom from obstruction in carrying out parliamentary functions, including freedom of access to the Legislative Precinct”, the right to exclude strangers, and the right to regulate its own internal affairs and procedures free from interference.  (Maingot, at 14-15, New Brunswick Broadcasting Co. v. Nova Scotia (Speaker of the House of Assembly), [1993] 1 SCR 319)

No Court or other tribunal will interfere with a properly constituted decision of the Legislature to exclude a member of the public from its proceedings, but with unfettered privilege comes responsibility.  The Legislature is composed of its members, whose sanction is the requirement periodically to consult the electors of the province.  Proceedings that are carried out in secret, with no documented process, no specific grounds alleged that the excluded “stranger” poses a threat to the security or operation of the Legislature, no opportunity to reply and no appeal, are exempt from democratic oversight, undermining the foundation of the privilege itself.

The Ongoing Saga

Five years after the Legislature ban, the issue was publicly revived in the wake of incidents between Charles and the Fredericton police during the summer of 2011 which led to his arrest for protesting outside the Fredericton Police Station with a bull horn.  Loredana Catalli Sonier volunteered further information on the reasons for the ban.

CBC Terry Seguin: Charles Leblanc has portrayed himself as an activist and advocate of free speech.  Last Friday he pleaded not guilty to a charge of causing a disturbance for protesting with a bullhorn in front of the Fredericton Police Station.  Leblanc says a ticket he received for riding his bike on the sidewalk is the result of a five year feud with staff at the New Brunswick Legislature.  Leblanc was banned from the Legislature in 2006.  Late Friday afternoon, the Clerk of the Legislature took the unusual step of revealing new details of the reason for that ban.  Here’s what Loredana Catalli Sonier had to say.

Loredana Catalli Sonier:  We had a number of complaints leading up to the filing of written complaints to me regarding the actions of Charles Leblanc while he was in the building.  We had observed certain incidents and the Sergeant-at-Arms met with Charles Leblanc and gave him every opportunity to correct his behaviour.  He did not correct this behaviour and this culminated in the filing of written complaints.  In fact there was one from a member of the press gallery as well as security personnel and some from the Corp of Commissionaires.  LAC (Legislative Administration Committee), the committee that actually is the employer took these complaints very seriously and they followed the harassment policy where they’re obligated to ensure that the workplace is free of harassment.  I mean, employees need to go about their work and be treated with dignity and respect and this was not happening.  I mean there was harassment, I mean we observed and LAC took the matter very seriously and they proceeded and issued a barring notice on June 6, 2006.  There were six complaints.  The behaviour was he would hurl insults, personal insults, to the people in question.  If he left the building he would throw a badge at them, the security badge that you receive, he would stick the camera in their face, he had tape recorders on him, if he would go on a break he would chase them and approach them and stick the camera very close to their face and just basically say you’re a public figure and you have no right to privacy.  It was along those lines and it caused among some of the personnel, one member of the security detail actually resigned , stated that as the reason for resigning because he could no longer take that kind of abuse.  So LAC took that very seriously and since then there have been two requests to have him reinstated, one as early as this year, and what we basically have taken the position that he has not demonstrated that he’s changed his behaviour.  In fact he will not obey any orders from the Corp of Commissionaires or security.  He has been allowed on the grounds even though the barring notice excluded him from the grounds but in the last incident he was up on a top step at the front door and he was asked to leave and he just pushed aside a commissionaire and so he just refused to obey his order.  Someone demonstrates a lack of respect for authority it’s pretty hard for a committee to reinstate a right to come back into the building under those circumstances.  The Committee did not bar Mr. Leblanc from the Precincts because of anything he said on his blog.  It was purely the actions of the individual while in the legislative building.

CBC Terry Seguin: Charles Leblanc is not going quietly.  Earlier this week, we played some tape of the Clerk of the New Brunswick Legislature explaining why the blogger activist was banned from the building in 2006.  Loredana Catalli Sonier said the ban has nothing to do with what Leblanc writes on his blog.  She said it was because of complaints about Leblanc’s behaviour from six people who work in and around the legislature.  After we aired the Clerk’s comments, Leblanc asked for the right to respond.  He sat down with our provincial affairs reporter, Jacques Poitras.  

Charles Leblanc:  I’m not the same Charles Leblanc that I used to be.  I used to go there to read the newspapers in the library, to check my email in the computer.  I was always there, there’s no question about it.  Was I a pain in the butt?  Sure, I’m not going to deny it.  And then in 2005 I got a job myself.  A contractor hired me and I worked for four hours, I was going to have a job inside the legislature, in the room, ten bucks an hour, put down the ceiling.  Next thing you know the contractor told me that he had to let you go, because he said they don’t like you in there.  So, I had a chance to make a living for six months and Dan Bussières said I didn’t pass security clearance.  I mean, I was in a tent for six months, they knew who I was.  So that’s where the trouble really began when they stopped me from making a living.  Now, after that started, Dan Bussières, and I’ve been told by four different individuals, and I would talk to somebody inside the leg, Dan Bussières would arrive and say is that man harassing you?  Who Charles?  No.  Then he went around and said, if you put a harassment charge against Charles, Charles will never find out.  Sign these papers, we’ll present it to the LAC Committee and I promise that Charles will never know that you put a harassment charge.  Now, what is harassment?  You can say hello to a person and it could be harassment.  The Clerk said that I was taking pictures, that I had my camera in people’s faces.  That is an outright lie.  Number one, I couldn’t bring my camera inside the Leg, and I took some pictures outside.  But  I never had a video then.  I only started this video two years after the ban.  So, the camera thing?  I don’t think so.  This is foolishness.  This is overboard because it’s getting personal.  And by upset, do I make fun of Dan in my blog?  Yes I do.  Does Dan get upset at stuff that’s on my blog?  Yes he does.  The Clerk went to the CBC and told that Charles Leblanc, that I was such a rude disgusting person.  Well, maybe I still am, but that was six years ago.  Why didn’t they say anything six years ago?  

CBC Jacques Poitras:  What about she said you make personal insults to people’s faces, you would throw the security pass when you were leaving at the Commissionaires? 

Charles Leblanc:  There was a problem, everybody had a problem with a certain guy, and I had problems with him.  When I was working there for four hours he was making fun of me .  There was a personality conflict between me and this guy.  I left and I just throw my pass on the desk, and I didn’t hand it to him face to face.  He really really really gave me a hard time, and it was personal.  

CBC Jacques Poitras:  The clerk also said that you on the steps recently shoved or pushed a Commissionaire?

Charles Leblanc:  Well, that is a complete lie.  They have about 10 or 15 cameras outside of the Leg.  Let’s be honest, Jacques.  If i would push a Commissionaire do you think we would be having this conversation?  Dan Bussières, that episode, came out and accused me of pushing the Commissionaire.  I said, I never push nobody.  As a matter of fact, Dan Bussières pushed me and I got it on video, and the police are investigating this complaint that I made against Dan Bussières now.  I mean, this is getting totally totally out of hand.  This is hurting a lot of people.  All over foolishness.  I think it’s just a battle of Titans and nobody wants to get hit.

CBC Jacques Poitras:  Have you considered at all, since your experience in jail and in Court, whether to moderate your approach or change your style at all?

Charles Leblanc:  Well, you know Jacques, let’s face facts.  I don’t need to protest with a blow horn outside.  I have a very popular blog.  I have seven, eight thousand people a day.  High class people, powerful people, they read my blog.  There’s no question about it.  Should I change my approach?  I have ADHD Jacques, I’m hyper.  I can’t change that.  I mean, I wish my priest could perform an exorcism on me, or remove the Scottish blood out of my system, that’s another thing, because I’m so stubborn.  I’m half Scottish, my mother’s from Glasgow Scotland.  I’m not going to use that as an excuse but can I change my ways?  Well, maybe not with a blow horn, just stay in my blog and hopefully calmer heads will prevail and we can settle this and move on.

CBC Terry Seguin:  Mr. Leblanc also disputes the Clerk’s statement that the ban had nothing to do with the content of his blog.  He says one employee at the Legislature was upset by a vague and indirect reference he made on his blog to her personal circumstances without identifying her.  Leblanc says he’s been told that contributed to the ban something the Clerk has denied.  We’ve chosen not to air that part of Leblanc’s interview to avoid identifying that employee. 

Democratic Deficit and a Growing Credibility Gap

Ms Sonier’s puzzling, belated effort on September 19, 2011 to shore up the Legislative Assembly’s undemocratic action in banning Charles from its precincts illustrates the challenge facing governments everywhere.  Vague, generalized assertions as a means of justifying an action or a policy are no match for the graphic truth depicted by the everyman blogger and tweeter through his own private media empire.

“Control the message and you control the truth” (aka the big lie) is getting hard to carry off.  Ms Sonier’s assertions elicited an immediate response from Charles.  A case of “he said, she said”, but Charles came out as far more credible.

Ms Sonier added nothing new to the debate over Charles’ banning.  Charles did.  He refuted each assertion in detail.  His assertions are backed by the minute, graphic detail that is captured daily on his blog.

No matter who is pulling the strings in the ongoing persecution of Charles Leblanc, this is a battle between titans over who controls the message.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Charles Leblanc's 2006 Arrest by Saint John Police at Atlantica Conference

Charles dates his current troubles with police back to incidents with the police in 2006.

On May 28, 2006, Charles covered the “Solidarity across Borders” protest in Fredericton and reported it in his blog, mentioning also that he would be covering the Atlantica Conference in Saint John the following week.  His pictures of police arresting peaceful demonstrators were featured by ATV news, leading to an apology by Fredericton’s Chief of Police.

On June 9, 2006, Charles was arrested by police as he covered the protest at the Atlantica Conference as a blogger and amateur journalist.   Some masked protestors rushed the gates to force their way into the conference.   Police arrested two of the protestors, and singled out Charles who was standing with the media taking pictures.  According to a CBC news story of November 2, 2006:

Duane Roussel, who was also with the protesters, saw LeBlanc's arrest unfold in front of him and, like Williston, says LeBlanc was doing nothing but taking pictures. "Charles LeBlanc was with the media, off on the side," he said. "But he wasn't chanting. He wasn't wearing a mask. He wasn't hiding anything." 

CBC video* of Leblanc appears to confirm that, showing him standing off to the side with his camera, and then a second time with his flash going off, and a third time kneeling to get more pictures.

Watching the video, Tim Currie says LeBlanc doesn't appear to be doing anything different from other journalists. "It seems clear from this footage that Charles Leblanc is acting in the same way as the other reporters. He doesn't seem to be in the middle of the crowd, he's off to the side."

Acting no differently, but treated much differently by police.

Toward the end of the demonstration, video shows Leblanc's arrest occurring quickly as Sgt. John Parks hands a protester he already has in custody off to another officer. The exchange happens right in front of LeBlanc, who still has his camera focused on the main demonstration.

As the arrested protestor is led away, the camera catches a glimpse of Parks moving toward LeBlanc, past newspaper photographer Peter Walsh and CTV reporter Mike Cameron, where out of view he grabs LeBlanc, pushes him across the floor and up against the far wall right in front of protestor Duane Roussel.

"What I saw was the police officer take, with his hand, take Charles by the head and push him into the wall where the pictures are and I saw the pictures moving back and forth and I thought, 'Charles, why did they have to do this to Charles?' He wasn't pushing police. He wasn't trying to push his way into the conference centre. He was just taking pictures."

Charles was charged with obstruction of justice and denied legal aid.  Fredericton lawyer, Harold Doherty, stepped forward to defend Charles, and he was acquitted.  According to a CBC news story on November 25, 2006:

The judge who acquitted a New Brunswick blogger of obstructing justice says Charles LeBlanc was merely "plying his trade" at a protest last summer and shouldn't have been arrested.

In his 20-page written decision, Judge William McCarroll noted that LeBlanc was not among the mob of demonstrators during the Saint John protest, but was in a public space taking pictures of the protesters for his website when he was arrested. 

He said LeBlanc is well-known for his blog, well enough that police officers admitted to consulting it to gather intelligence about the conference.

"Mr. LeBlanc was never advised by the police that he would be arrested if he did certain things. He was simply plying his trade, photographing the demonstration for inclusion in his blog when he was arrested," he wrote.

LeBlanc, who writes about poverty and politics on his website, was arrested and pinned to the ground by three police officers outside a business conference last June. A police officer later admitted to deleting a photo of himself from LeBlanc's camera.

LeBlanc maintained he did nothing different from any other journalist covering the event, but was singled out by Sgt. John Parks, the arresting officer.

Parks testified that he arrested LeBlanc partly because he was "scruffy" looking and carrying an unprofessional-looking digital camera. Parks also testified that LeBlanc challenged police authority at the event, and resisted arrest.

However, CBC videotape of the event, entered as evidence by the defence, contradicted police testimony that LeBlanc refused a police order to leave the conference centre and resisted arrest.

McCarroll said the pictures proved beyond a reasonable doubt that LeBlanc did nothing wrong.

"There is such a discrepancy between the evidence of Sgt. Parks and the CBC video, that I find it unsafe to convict Mr. LeBlanc," he wrote. "I am not even satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that if Mr. LeBlanc was in fact ordered to leave by Sgt. Parks, he heard or understood the order."

McCarroll also said the officers had no right to seize LeBlanc's digital camera or delete his photo without a search warrant.

The concerns raised by the Saint John Police arrest, and the handling of a complaint about the Police conduct at the time of the arrest and at trial, were detailed by Harold Doherty in a letter to the Solicitor General and Minister of Public Safety, John W. Foran which is reproduced in Charles' October 2, 2008 blog entry:

1) The RCMP conducted investigation found no evidence of perjury.

The finding of no evidence of perjury, as opposed to insufficient evidence of perjury, with respect to Sgt. Parks, as alleged in Mr.LeBlanc’s complaint, is difficult to accept in light of the evidence produced at trial, the findings of the learned trial judge and the information submitted with Mr. LeBlanc’s complaint.

2) The Findings of the Trial Judge
In Mr. LeBlanc’s trial on charges of obstructing justice he was acquitted by His Honour Judge McCarroll in  R. v. LeBlanc, Citation #2006NBPC37:
Page 16

It is clear from the C.B.C. video that contrary to what Sergeant Parks testified to, Mr. LeBlanc was off to his right some distance, not behind him. It’s likewise clear when reviewing the tape in slow motion, that contrary to what Sergeant Parks testified to, the defendant was not moving towards him just prior to his arrest. It is inconceivable to me after viewing the tape, how Sergeant Parks could have perceived the defendant, down on one knee, some distance from the protestors, taking pictures, as a threat.

Page 17

It is clear from the video that immediately upon turning the previously arrested Mr. Webber over to another officer, Sergeant Parks for some reason, went directly towards the defendant, grabbed him in the upper chest area,pushed him towards the far wall, and pinned him there. In his testimony, Sergeant Parks said that he did not touch the defendant until they were at the far wall. Sergeant Parks justified his arrest of the defendant, not only on the basis that the defendant was behind him and that he posed a threat with his camera, and that he was moving towards him, but also because he refused a direct order from Sergeant Parks to leave the area.  After viewing the video many times at normal speed and slow speed, the conversation the officer said he had with Mr. LeBlanc prior to his arrest was not in any way apparent to me.

Pages 17-18

Sergeant Parks said the defendant was resisting somewhat and had to be taken to the floor in order to apply handcuffs, yet the photo marked Exhibit “D” clearly shows Sergeant Parks and Mr. LeBlanc strolling arm and arm from one side of the foyer to the other with no sign whatsoever of resistance from the defendant.

Page 20

The conflicting evidence in this case presents me with difficulties in arriving at a conclusion the accused is guilty as charged. There is such a discrepancy between the evidence of Sergeant Parks and the CBC video, that I find it unsafe to convict Mr. LeBlanc. I am not even satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that if Mr. LeBlanc was in fact ordered to leave by Sergeant Parks, he heard or understood the order. I have pointed out other serious inconsistencies between the evidence of Sergeant Parks and the video earlier on in this judgment. Considering the evidence in it’s totality with all of the inconsistencies,I am not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Charles LeBlanc willfully obstructed Sergeant Parks in the execution of his duty.

His Honour Judge McCarroll is an experienced trial judge and a former Crown prosecutor. His choice of language in describing the several inconsistencies between the CBC video and Sgt. Parks is unusually strong in not accepting the testimony of an experienced police officer. As the decision makes clear, Judge McCarroll studied the evidence carefully, viewing the CBC video recording several times. The inconsistencies he found in Sgt. Parks evidence were not peripheral facts in the case. They were central to the charge of whether Mr. LeBlanc committed obstruction of justice and to Judge McCarroll’s decision to acquit.

3) Sgt. Parks’ Deletion of Photos on Mr LeBlanc’s Camera

Sgt. Parks stated in his file notes and in testimony that he saw and deleted only one picture from Mr. LeBlanc’s camera. Constable Tanya Lawlor testified that Mr.LeBlanc had been on the scene throughout the day taking pictures. Mr. LeBlanc did not testify in court but informed investigating RCMP Officer Delaney-Smith that he had taken many pictures that day and that they had all been deleted. He also informed her that the Canon camera he uses does not permit you to unknowingly delete all photos.

The CBC video shows Mr LeBlanc taking pictures of the demonstration in the opposite direction from Sgt Parks before he is arrested. The last picture on the camera could not have been of Sgt Parks and he would have had to do a search of the camera in order to see a picture of himself. All photos were deleted and that can not be done accidentally with this type of camera.

You either have to delete all pictures one at a time and therefore intentionally or you have to press delete all in which case the camera asks you to confirm that you want to delete all and then you have to perform another 2 steps by moving the cursor over to the right and pressing OK. A bright green line then shows you the progression of the deletion process. Again, you can not unknowingly delete “all” on this Canon camera model. This information was presented to the first investigating officer Delaney-Smith.

4) A Second Officer Took Over the Complaint File

The RCMP investigation was initially conducted by RCMP Corporal Delaney-Smith. She spoke with me in addition to interviewing Mr. LeBlanc. I understood from my discussion that her report would be done in December. In the new year there was no news and at some point I was informed that the file was being handled by Staff Sgt. Gary Belliveau.

It is understood that there may be more than one officer involved in a file for any number of innocuous reasons. In the circumstances of this case though, with an experienced trial judge pointing out, in strong language, several clear inconsistencies between Sgt. Parks testimony and the CBC video evidence, and an investigation conclusion of NO evidence of perjury Mr. LeBlanc is suspicious that the RCMP may not have liked the first investigating officer’s conclusions and then changed them. I share Mr. LeBlanc’s suspicion.

On that day in Saint John, Charles gained in stature and credibility in the eyes of the public.  KHJ radio host Randy McKeen had this to say:

Many of you know the name Charles Leblanc. For years he was a frequent letter writer to provincial newspapers and caller to radio and television talk shows. Several years ago he pitched a tent on the grounds of the legislature to protest what he felt was the over-prescription of Ritalin for children with A-D-H-D.

He’s also gained some notoriety by being banned from the legislature and for operating a blog that takes shots at politicians, bureaucrats, the Irvings and Rogers Television. Leblanc is the first to tell you he can be a pain in the butt and many politicians and most of the mainstream media clearly see him that way. Two years ago, Leblanc was arrested while covering a demonstration in Saint John for his blog. He was roughed up during the arrest and the pictures he had taken of the demonstration were deleted from his digital camera.

Leblanc was charged with obstruction of justice. He was denied legal aid and only got legal representation because Fredericton lawyer Harold Doherty agreed to take his case for free. The cards were clearly stacked against Leblanc. Despite that, he was acquitted and as the facts became known, it became apparent there was an obstruction of justice, but it wasn’t Charles Leblanc doing the obstructing.

He should never have been charged. In fact, he should never have been arrested and the evidence of that is as plain as day. The presiding judge certainly saw that. In handing down his decision, Justice William McCarroll noted that much of Saint John Police Sergeant John Parks’ testimony was inconsistent with the video evidence. The judge’s language was strong and left no doubt he did not believe the officer’s sworn testimony.

I mean anyone who knows Charles Leblanc knows that Parks had to be lying when he said he deleted only one picture from his camera. When Leblanc is out and about getting stuff for his blog, he takes one picture about every ten seconds. There’s no doubt there was more than one picture deleted.

Despite all this, an R-C-M-P investigation – which had a suspicious change of investigating officers midway through – concluded there was no evidence of perjury. It didn’t say there was insufficient evidence. It said there was no evidence. That, quite frankly, is ludicrous and should make everyone very leery of our justice system. In the vast majority of criminal cases, defendants are convicted based in large part on the sworn testimony of police officers. I don’t doubt that in the vast majority of cases, police tell the truth. This is a case where the evidence suggests a police officer did not and that should not be allowed to go unchallenged, regardless of whether the person is charged is a pain in the butt.

The enduring effect of that day in Saint John is reflected in this comment on Charles’ blog post of June 27, 2011, a very bad day for Charles:

You certainly should be upset, not for getting a ticket in front of others but for just getting a ticket period. Too bad you did not have your blow horn with you, you could have told the public around the scenes how our tax money is being spent chasing cyclist like you and it could happen to them. The blow horn could have also helped you transmit your message in oiseau's face and he would not have gotten so close to your personal space. 

Most of us here in NB support you. 

Writing from Shediac, NB a fan since seing the abuse you received from those evil, corrupt police tugs in Saint John. Could not believe a police officers from NB could do that to an innocent by stander and not get fired. Just unbelievable!!! Mayor and counsellors should be embarresed. You should blog the names of police involved - but maybe that might get you a bullet instead of a ticket? Who knows after what we witnessed on CBC 5 years ago to the torture you undured. 

A fan forever

Many questions remain from this disconcerting episode. Charles’ acquittal was no redress for the manifest injustice done to him. Who was out to get Charles at Atlantica? How and why did the justice system so obviously fail him?

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Search Warrant and Arrest of Charles Leblanc

Search Warrant

The issuance and execution of a search warrant in these circumstances seems a heavy-handed - and expensive - use of public resources.

The search warrant itself seems weak.  It is based on a single section of the Criminal Code of Canada that is invalid because it is an infringement of our guarantee of free speech under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It is based on a single alleged defamation.  All of the case law on defamatory libel under the Criminal Code involves much more serious and damaging defamatory statements.

It is the latest salvo in a long running personal antagonism between Charles Leblanc and the police officer in question.  Taxpayers, and anyone concerned about civil liberties, might well ask what form of police oversight has been involved in initiating a police action against a citizen on the side of a personal dispute?  The  Canadian Civil Liberties Association asked in its letter of :

"What type of independent oversight is available when police officers are involved as complainants in a criminal matter? What are the Fredericton Police Force's procedures for investigating and laying charges with respect to defamatory libel under the Criminal Code?"

Mayor Brad Woodside, who as part of City Council has oversight of the city police force, has stated he had nothing to do with it, but that the crown prosecutor approved the search warrant before it was issued.  In its February 7 issue, the Daily Gleaner quoted the Mayor as stating:
"In this case, a charge is presented to the Crown and the Crown will then look at whatever evidence is there and then decide whether or not the case will go forward ... There was a search warrant sought from the Crown. The Crown then had to approve the search warrant, then present it back to the police with the approval and then present it to a judge, so there were two sets of eyes (reviewing it). That process was followed,"
 This appears to contradict the January 21 Daily Gleaner report that:

Local Crown prosecutors Hilary Drain and Darlene Blunston said they have yet to review the police file in the LeBlanc libel investigation.
It appears that the Fredericton Police Force is pursuing a complaint of its own member without any oversight at all.

Promise to Appear

Defamatory libel necessarily involves a public statement, so what will a search of the private files on his computer yield?  Charles Leblanc's public statements are readily accessible.

 Observers of the Fredericton Police Force are very eager to learn why it was necessary to arrest Charles and hold him for six hours.  If it is the normal procedure, it seems intimidating if it serves no valid purpose.

Once they have you though, they are in a pretty good position to make you sign just about anything so you can hurry home and take your medication.  Then they can arrest you for the next several months for breaching any of those conditions

It is a mystery why the Fredericton Police Force will not be able to let Charles know where he stands for another few months, for an incident that took place last summer.


Charles is in the soup now.  He'll have to hire a lawyer just to find out what he can and cannot do for the next three months while nameless individuals secretly figure out how much they want to continue the torment, all of course at taxpayer expense.  Is this a pressing priority for Fredericton?