By guest blogger Brian Brennan
The Robert William Pickton murder trial has started in New Westminster Supreme Court with 350 media types from around the world accredited to cover the case. Most of these reporters — including two former Vancouver prostitutes blogging for the so-called “citizen journalism” website, orato.com — are filing for same-day or next-day publication. Others, including On the Take author Stevie Cameron, are taking notes for the true-crime books they plan to publish when the Pickton trial is over.
They should be watching their backs. True-crime writers don’t have an easy time of it in Canada these days. Let me show you what I mean:
In each of these cases, the writers found themselves dealing with lawyers or cops who seemed to think reporters should be working as agents of the state, helping — not hindering — them in their efforts to put bad guys in jail. Cameron has faced legal troubles too. In 2003, The Globe and Mail fingered her as a confidential RCMP informant in a bribery case involving the supply of 12 European-built helicopters to the Canadian Coast Guard. Cameron acknowledged that she did share information with the RCMP — a practice common among reporters seeking police cooperation while researching their stories — but denied any knowledge of the police designating her as a confidential informant whose identity they would have to protect.
“I was surprised by their efforts to use me as a kind of research assistant,” she says on her blog. She hired a team of lawyers to clear her name, filed a formal complaint against the RCMP for allegedly making false statements that damaged her reputation as a journalist, and is currently awaiting a ruling from an Ontario judge, Edward Then, on whether he brought the administration of justice into disrepute in 2001 when he issued an order to keep Cameron’s name out of court documents associated with the bribery case.
Will Cameron’s publication of the book she has titled The Pig Farm, or the publication of other books about the Pickton case, result in further legal hassles for true-crime writers in this country? It is instructive to note that such journalistic rights organizations as Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, which traditionally have focussed on the problems journalists face while doing their jobs in such international hotspots as Iraq, Pakistan, and Russia, are increasingly turning their attention to threats to press freedom in Canada.
Brian Brennan is a Calgary author and journalist. His latest title is How the West was Written: The Life and Times of James H. Gray.