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Canadians learn about trial from faxed stories published in U.S. newspaper

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CANADA -- The American media and computer enthusiasts joined forces to disseminate information in two recent cases where the Canadian…

CANADA — The American media and computer enthusiasts joined forces to disseminate information in two recent cases where the Canadian press has been gagged.

The Associated Press and the Washington Post reported that in late August, Chief Justice Allan McEachern of the British Columbia Supreme Court granted an injunction and secrecy order in a Vancouver case involving American-born Vancouver stock promoter, Robert Friedland. The Canadian Broadcasting Company was doing an investigative story on Friedland who controlled a gold mine in Colorado that leached toxic wastes and was cited for Superfund cleanup.

During the course of the investigation, the CBC learned that Friedland was convicted of trafficking LSD in Portland, Maine, in the 1970s. Friedland obtained a gag order to prevent the CBC from publicizing the drug conviction.

The Toronto Globe and Mail published a front page notice titled “A story we can’t report.” The gag order applied to the matter in dispute, the name of the plaintiff, the name of the court and even to the existence of the gag order itself.

Canadians have been getting information about the case through the Denver Post, which published an editorial about the case and urged readers to fax copies of it to Canada. The editorial and some news accounts of the trial were posted on lamp posts and in the windows of several bookstores. Mark Obmascik of the Denver Post said that the newspaper received over 500 requests for copies of the editorial. The editorial was also published on a computer information service, Canada Stockwatch, and the text of some Post stories was available on the Internet computer network.

The judge lifted the gag order in late September.

In another case, Justice Francis Kovacs imposed a sweeping gag order to prevent pre- trial publicity regarding a notorious murder case in Burlington, Ontario. Karla Homolka and her husband Paul Teal were charged with the brutal murders of two teenage girls in Ontario. Teal is awaiting trial.

The judge barred the public and all foreign reporters from the trial. While accredited Canadian journalists were allowed to observe the trial, they were not permitted to report on the details or evidence until after Teal’s trial, which may not be completed until 1995, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. The Canadian media were not allowed to report that Homolka pled guilty, However, the Canadian Press wire service accidently issued a bulletin reporting that she pled guilty. The wire story was killed 45 minutes later.

According to the Washington Post, “electronic bulletin boards and low tech grapevines have made the gruesome purported facts of the case common knowledge.”

(John Doe v. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp.)