Federal Court managers say they have disciplined an employee for editing a plaintiff’s Wikipedia page amid ongoing legal proceedings. Administrators did not say if the misconduct was directed by a lawyer in Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould’s department.
“Disciplinary measures were taken against the employee,” Daniel Gosselin, chief administrator of the Courts Administration Service, said in a statement. “The measures taken took into consideration the employee’s wrongdoing”; “I would like to confirm the employee is not an officer of the Court” – meaning a judge, court clerk or lawyer, said Gosselin (original emphasis).
The Court would not name the Wikipedia editor, or detail what discipline was taken. Federal employees on duty are restricted from using government computers for anything but official business under a Treasury Board Guideline On Acceptable Network And Device Use.
The Court confirmed on December 21, 2016 a courthouse computer was used to edit a Blacklock’s Reporter Wikipedia page. The edits occurred within 90 minutes of the release of a Federal Court cost award against Blacklock’s in a copyright case. The decision was not publicly accessible at the time.
A judge ordered Blacklock’s to pay $65,000 in costs after unsuccessfully suing the Department of Finance for breach of the Copyright Act. The department had knowingly distributed password-protected news stories without payment or permission.
Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould in a letter to Blacklock’s said Court staff must operate “at arm’s length from the government”, and declined comment on the incident. Access To Information memos indicated Department of Justice staff were puzzled by the Wikipedia edits. “Who could have made the change?” wrote one staffer.
“Christmas Came Early”
Records indicated a Department of Justice lawyer, Alexandre Kaufman, received the cost award at 1:32 pm and within minutes emailed it to 22 people including two Ottawa bloggers, a media columnist for the Globe & Mail, two private law firms, two government communications officers, the University of Western Ontario and several federal attorneys.
“Christmas came early,” Kaufman wrote in his emails; “Please enjoy”; “A most interesting read”; “For your reading pleasure”. The Wikipedia edits occurred in the same time period that Kaufman was blitzing commentators with email messages that continued from 1:51 pm to 7:01 pm that evening, and resumed the next morning.
The Courts Administration Service is exempt from the Access To Information Act and would not release details of the Wikipedia editing. “We strive to be exemplary in everything we do,” the Service wrote in its latest Annual Report; “Judicial independence is a cornerstone of the Canadian judicial system.”
A 2017 Department of Justice memo Judicial Independence And The Courts stressed “courts must be independent”, including routine business matters. Administration is a “pillar of judicial independence”, including “administrative decisions that bear directly and immediately on the exercise of judicial function, e.g….direction of court staff,” said the memo prepared for a Deputy Ministers’ Committee on Governance.