Justice Dep’t Bullies Reporters

The Department of Justice threatened Parliamentary Press Gallery reporters with contempt of court in an apparent witness tampering scheme, records disclose. One lawyer representing Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould privately coached Blacklock’s writers to withdraw sworn oaths filed in a federal copyright case.

Blacklock’s has claims against government defendants for copying thousands of works without permission or licensing fee in breach of the Copyright Act. Six journalists who’d written for the electronic daily swore 2017 affidavits before a notary affirming they’d assigned all copyright to Blacklock’s. The affidavits were filed with Federal Court.

Justice Canada staff in confidential emails and letters subsequently threatened reporters. “YOU MAY BE FOUND IN CONTEMPT OF COURT,” department counsel Sarah Sherhols wrote journalists (original emphasis). There was no Court order.

Alexandre Kaufman, senior counsel for the Attorney General, in a series of private emails told journalists they must disclose personal information or consider withdrawing their sworn statements. “I encourage you to seek independent legal advice for information about the consequences of not complying,” Kaufman wrote one journalist.

Another reporter was ordered to submit third-party contracts with other clients for inspection by the Department of Justice, though it was not a legal requirement. “Bring copies of the agreements you have with your other freelance customers,” wrote Kaufman; “Please advise if you wish to withdraw your affidavit.”

“I’m just doing my job,” Kaufman told journalists. Kaufman on September 8 cross-examined three reporters who’d sworn affidavits in the case:

  • Reporter: “The copyright is owned by Blacklock’s.”
  • Kaufman: “Why are you saying that?”
  • Reporter: “Pardon me?”
  • Kaufman: “That wasn’t the question I asked you. Why are you saying that?”
  • Reporter: “Because that’s what was in my affidavit…”
  • Kaufman: “Did (they) tell you to say that?…”
  • Reporter: “No.”

Five of six Blacklock’s reporters resisted the department and affirmed their oaths. The sixth writer, Dale Smith, a Law Times freelancer, withdrew his affidavit after an email exchange with Attorney Kaufman that ran to six pages. The Department of Justice claimed solicitor-client privilege in concealing the records under the Access To Information Act. The emails were obtained in legal proceedings.

The department in an August 3, 2017 email ordered Smith to bring all notes relating to 41 stories published by Blacklock’s with his byline over a two-year period. “This is unwieldy in the extreme,” complained Smith, who’d already testified in a 2015 cross examination that “I signed over copyright of material to them.”

“I am sorry…if it causes you stress,” Kaufman emailed Smith on August 30. “As I believe I mentioned to you before, you are always free to withdraw your affidavit in which case you cannot be cross-examined on it,” Kaufman wrote again on August 31.

Smith withdrew the sworn statement after asking Blacklock’s for $7,681 to pay his tax arrears. The editor refused to make any payment.

Blacklock’s has copyright claims against 13 government departments and agencies for sharing $157 passwords to copy thousands of stories without permission or payment, despite multiple warnings and written denials. Works were copied by federal media monitors without a licensing fee, though records show the Government of Canada paid large fees to other publishers for news clippings.

Payments to other news media included Thomson Reuters Canada Ltd. ($2.3 million); The Canadian Press ($645,000); Bloomberg Finance ($465,000); iPolitics ($274,000); Postmedia Networks ($226,000) and the National Observer ($131,000).

The Department of Justice acknowledged copying Blacklock’s works to thousands of federal employees, but claimed a right to do so under a “fair dealing” provision of the Copyright Act that permits discrete copying for research purposes or private study.

By Staff

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