Saturday, February 23, 2002

Current Ontario Premier Mike Harris is getting out of politics (and not a moment too soon). Just before he is to leave he has sued the Globe & Mail for $15 million, alleging that the newspaper libelled him by implying that he ordered the shooting death of Indian protester Dudley George. Ridiculous Canadian libel laws allow politicians and other public figures to use the libel laws strategically (Canadian and British libel laws are awful; American libel laws are much better). Most notably, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney semi-successfully used a libel suit against the Canadian government in the Airbus affair, but some fancy footwork by the Minister of Justice at the end of the suit meant that the RCMP investigation of the Airbus affair continues, apparently at a glacial pace. How is Harris strategically using Canadian libel laws: 1) by suing now, while he is still Premier, he gets the whole thing paid for by the taxpayers of Ontario; 2) he can parry Opposition calls for a judicial inquiry in the matter by saying that the whole thing is 'before the courts'; and 3) he can halt or slow police investigation in the matter by creating a 'libel chill', which causes police investigators to fear becoming defendants in his law suit. While this manipulation of libel laws can be useful for politicians, it can also backfire (just ask Lord Archer!). Off in the distance, I think I hear an Indian reciting 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol'.