(book image courtesy Amazon.ca)
I’m just back from a courtroom on University Avenue in Toronto where a judge in the Robert Baltovich re-pre-trial threw out a subpoena demanding a local writer hand over his research materials. It’s a very good day for a free press in Canada.
Derek Finkle, former editor of TORO Magazine, succeeded in protecting his background work for the book No Claim to Mercy, after months of pre-trial wrangling. No Claim to Mercy covered the 1990 Elizabeth Bain murder case, in which Bain’s boyfriend Robert Baltovich was convicted, only to be released from prison after eight years when new evidence threw speculation for the crime at Paul Bernardo. Bernardo was unknown at the time of Bain’s murder, but hindsight shows he was active as the Scarborough rapist when Bain disappeared from the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus. Baltovich is being retried, and his prosecutors were very interested in seeing all of the confidential interviews and research materials Finkle collected to write his book. For more info on Bain, Baltovich and Bernardo see this CBC page.
At the press scrum after the hearing, one TV reporter asked this question:
“What’s so wrong with turning over this material to prosecutors anyway? I mean, they’re the prosecutors — the good guys, right? They’re trying to nail a murderer.”
I’m pretty sure the question was rhetorical, but in case it wasn’t and others out there wonder if it’s possible to always know who the good guys are in a court case, just ask one of these dudes:
Wrongfully Convicted in Canada
But the protection of a writer’s confidential work is less about good guys and bad guys and more about the public good, which is best served, I think, when police and courts do their own investigative work, rather than relying on the heavy lifting of writers.
Oh, and now seems like a good time to remind everyone that there’s more than one way for a press to lose its freedom and independence.