Friday, July 03, 2009

Canadian Censorship: WWII and Now

There are quite a few interesting comments at the Western Standard's Shotgun Blog discussion of my recent posting on Sec. 13 of the Human Rights Act. May of the comments are the usual Pavlovian boilerplate, but this one is worth responding to:

Actually, Bourrie's thesis was on WWII censorship not the history of state censorship. That censorship, as I understand it, took the form of prior restraint on publication. Whatever else human rights tribunal do, they do not exercise prior restraint. Rather, they offer remedies similar to those provided by civil courts in defamation actions: monetary penalties and injunctions preventing further publication or repetition of the offending words. Is that properly described as censorship? I don't think so. Not apples and orange, perhaps, but certainly peaches and plums.

As for Lynch, while she's under no obligation to debate Levant (as Dawg has pointed out, Stephen Harper doesn't debate people who criticize him) there's no denying that her handling of this was a P.R. bomb.

That said, she is correct that many of her critics have only a glancing relationship with the truth. Certainly Levant's accounts of various human rights cases are so shamelessly torqued and distorted that if he tried to foist them on a judge, the blast from the bench would straighten his hair. And as Prof. Moon pointed out, Levant and his acolytes are too happy to make things up.
But having decided to make that point in a G&M op-ed, Lynch had should been prepared to back it up the next day.

Should there be a debate about s. 13? Sure. Are there people from across the political spectrum opposed to that provision and others like it? Yup. But not all opponents are as principled or as honest as Alan Borovoy or Prof. Moon. And despite your attempt to pretend that discussion of Levant's honesty is a mere distraction, some of most unprincipled and dishonest are stalwarts of the right-o-sphere.

I doubt very much that the poster read my thesis. It has an analysis of all state censorship in Canada and a literature review on the subject. And since there are no other books about the domestic press censorship system in WWII -- the reason I wrote my PhD thesis and why it was accepted on its defence -- he really doesn't know what he's talking about.

Here's how the domestic press censorship system worked in Canada in WWII:

The censorship system existed under the powers given to the government by the War Measures Act of 1914 and the Orders in Council of 1939 that approved the Defence of Canada Regulations.

These regulations prohibited the publication of:

* information of military value to the enemy
* material that would hamper recruitment (i.e. public morale)
* material that would cause a rift between the Allies and friendly powers (i.e. Britain and the US before Pearl Harbor).

There was no pre-censorship of the press, except the Japanese-Canadian newspaper The New Canadian. Censors -- almost all of them respected journalists -- could give advice on whether the article breached the Defence of Canada Regulations. After August, 1942, any publisher who printed an approved story was immune from prosecution if it turned out the story did, in fact, breach the DCR.

The censors could not kill stories. The system was voluntary, and censors only advised on stories that were submitted to them. You could publish articles without showing them to the censors, but you took your chances that the material did not breach the DCRs.

The censors sent out circulars every few months explaining and listing their rulings and advising on the types of stories that could bot be printed. For instance, after 1940, when German POWs started being shipped to Canada, the censors warned against publishing articles and photos about them.

The censors had absolutely no power to lay charges. In fact, their advice to charge Le Devoir and several other papers was routinely ignored. Charges were laid by the Minister of Justice. Three papers (Le Soliel, Le Droit and the Vancouver Sun) were convicted of one count each under the DCR. The maximum fine was $300. A freelancer was given a suspended sentence for an article on the Bowmanville POW riot printed in Time.

Mayor Camillein Houde of Montreal was interned under the War Measures Act for remarks about manpower (draft) registration in 1940. The Montreal Gazette printed his remarks and was threatened with charges.

The domestic censorship system had its faults, but at least there were political safeguards (which I argued were sorely abused by Ernest Lapointe and Louis St. Laurent) and, much more importantly, the censors, unlike the HRCs, gave journalists written guides on what was actionable. This is an important difference, as today's publishers simply cannot know what is "illegal" under Human Rights acts until the process is over. The definitions of offences under Sec. 13 of the federal act and relevant sections of provincial laws are vague and there is no body of law or decision-making that shows where the "line" is. (This is also a problem with defamation laws, but at least there's a large body of case law that gives publishers and their lawyers a fairly good idea of where they stand.)

As well, anyone charged under the DCR was tried in a real court. There were acquitals: in fact, the Ottawa Citizen was found not guilty in two separate cases. Due process in a real court was the only way a publisher or journalist could be sanctioned. The censors did not rip up news copy or bust up printing plates. Nor, as did Ontario HRC chief Barbara Hall with Maclean's, would censors publicly denounce journalists. Sometimes, the censors did send out private reprimands to warn of close calls under the DCRs but they did not hold members of the press up to public and professional scorn, the way Hall did with Maclean's.

It's also important to remember the censorship system existed in wartime. The government lifted almost all censorship on V-E Day and cancelled all restrictions on V-J Day. The Borden government had actually strengthened the draconian WWI censorship system on Nov. 11, 1918 and kept the system going for a year during the Red Scare. King's government, and the censors themselves, were keen to get rid of censorship as soon as it was no longer justifiable.

In the end, Wilf Eggleston, the chief English censor, believed censorship stifled the press from doing its watchdog role and probably hampered the war effort by limiting investigative reporting and public debate. He believed journalists had used censorship as an excuse to become lazy. After the war, he quit journalism and founded the Carleton University journalism school.


Ti-Guy said...

...believed censorship stifled the press from doing its watchdog limiting investigative reporting and public debate.

I guess those awful HRT's are doing the same thing now (and for at least a decade), eh?

Ottawa Watch said...

That's your guess?
You said that. I don't believe it. My problem with the HRCs is the lack of real due process, the lack of clarity in what's allowed under the act, and the random, ad hoc decisions re: tribunal hearings. The conduct of HRC staff, especially in terms of engaging in entrapment behavior, draws the system into disrepute. As well, the awarding of "damages" to complainants who are not actually members of the target group is downright bizarre.

I do see the rationale for much of the support of HRCs, though you seem to give HRC supporters a bad name.

Ti-Guy said...

That's your guess?

No, it's not a guess. It's a conclusion drawn from empirical observation. The press has woefully abdicated its role as watchdog and can't be bothered resourcing investigative reporting.

But feel free to moan about the HRT's:

"Waah...Waaaaah! Czarina Hall is preventing me from exposing cost overruns in military procurement. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaah!"

Ottawa Watch said...

You are speaking of two different things (the quality of the press today and the issues of HRCs, which, so far, have had very little impact on the mainstream press in Canada) and you are not addressing my criticisms re: the HRCs and their processes. This is typical of you.

Ti-Guy said...

You are speaking of two different things...

...because I am attempting to put them into perspective.

The criticism in the press of the HRC's as been largely a recitation of the calumnies originating in the fevered imaginations of unscrupulous propagandists. It's a striking example of just how debased journalism has become.

I should have thanked you for this informative post, however.

Craig said...

Thanks for the informative post on WWII era censorship. The concern that the authorities had for press freedom during wartime casts the current abuses of the HRCs in a very unfavourable light.
Any chance you'll find a publisher for the thesis?

Ottawa Watch said...

Yup. That's in the bag.
(Also prepared to be an expert witness next time there's another Sec. 13 travesty.)

Craig said...

Great. Don't be shy and forget to self-promote when she's published.
And re section 13 - remember, there's nothing wrong with the commission that can't be fixed by denigrating Ezra Levant and ignoring the real issues!

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