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Friday, May 21, 2010

Intellectual freedom in Canada: Libel chill: “Will you have ice in that think?”

Franklin Carter, at the Book and Periodical Council's Freedom of Expression Committee, writes me news re public and private censorship of books and periodicals. Today’s topic is libel chill.

Franklin notes that

The threat of legal action from mining giant Barrick Gold has forced Vancouver-based Talonbooks to postpone publication of a book about the Canadian mining industry.

Publisher Karl Siegler calls it a clear case of "libel chill" by one of Canada's largest mining companies.

CBC News reports, “[Publisher] Siegler described Imperial Canada as an examination of the political, legal and banking environment that has led 70 per cent of the world's mining companies to register in Canada.

... The letter gave Talonbooks seven days to hand over the manuscript of the book, which was in the process of being translated from French to English.

"We ignored it initially," Siegler said in an interview Wednesday with CBC Radio's Q cultural affairs show.

"As far as we were concerned, they had no right to demand or see copies of manuscripts that were in development prior to their public release. Anyone working on a book has a right to privacy and should not be subject to this kind of supervision."

But after receiving a legal letter, the translators immediately stopped work on the book. Siegler consulted a lawyer, who told him if he proceeded with the book, he could face years in court fighting an opponent with very deep pockets.

"Everyone involved stood to lose millions of dollars," Siegler said. "In the publisher's case, we stood to lose not just the company but all of the titles we have in print, roughly 500 titles dating back to the 1960s, many of which are Canadian classics."

In Quill & Quire, Stuart Woods updates: “Talonbooks president Kevin Williams has told Q&Q that the company is receiving pro bono legal representation from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and hopes to resume work on the manuscript for Imperial Canada soon.”

The safest conclusion to draw, in my view, is that those who engage in libel chill have a bad case. I wouldn’t normally pay much attention to Imperial Canada, but now I really must have one.

Just think! If everyone did as I plan to do, libel chill would become a much costlier strategy. Anticipated sales would both stiffen the publisher’s backbone and give the chiller pause.

Thanks to Franklin Carter at the Book and Periodical Council's Freedom of Expression Committee.

Next: Intellectual freedom in Canada: “No Bad Bunnies for YOU, kid! Just “How Good Little Girls Learn to Say Correct Things”

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