Before any Canadian goes into apoplectic hysterics about child pornography, they should read about the St. John’s case of Scott Curtis.
Curtis was charged in June 2009 with one count of possession of child pornography. Last week — almost four years later — the Crown asked a judge to dismiss the case because, in legal terms, and as The Telegram reported Feb. 26, “there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him.”
In common language, investigators had made a huge mistake.
Curtis owned a second-hand computer. He took it to a shop to get it upgraded. A store employee allegedly found files containing images of child pornography. Police were called. Charges were laid. The case went to court. The law took its course.
Except that … except that … during the trial, police testimony revealed Curtis did not create the files that contained the images of child pornography. Nor did he ever open the files. Nor, in fact, did he even know the files were there. It was, after all, a second-hand computer.
To use more legalese, the prima facie evidence seems to show that a man had untrue allegations following him around for almost four years because investigators didn’t bother to check the date the files were created against the date he purchased the computer.
This case, and others similar to it that occasionally make the news, should send Canadians into apoplectic hysterics, but won’t. Public debate about the issue of child pornography is mainly distinguished by irrationality. Whenever someone tries to inject rationality into the discussion, the mob goes into hysterics.
Exhibit A: Tom Flanagan. The flamboyant University of Calgary professor added to his already considerable fame and infamy last week by making comments about child pornography and the law during a speech at the University of Lethbridge.
What an uproar. Fired by the CBC. Prematurely turfed by the U of C. Political parties quickly “distancing themselves” — the euphemism for three-dimensional unfriending.
A reasonable person might worry about the sorry state of free speech in Canada.
Luckily, many members of the mob going into hysterics helpfully pointed out that Flanagan’s disgusting, outrageous, revolting performance was captured via smartphone. It’s true. It was. You can go on the Internet and watch a video of his full comments, or read them verbatim.
Contrary to the accusations flying from the hysterical mob, Flanagan did not defend or justify child pornography. What he did was question the rightness and justness of some aspects of Canada’s child pornography laws. The distinction is apparently too complex for some CBC bureaucrats, university administrators, politicians and online trolls.
Here’s something else that is easy and helpful to do online. Look up the Criminal Code of Canada. Go to Section 163.1. It’s only about one screen long. Read it carefully. Then compare its contents to what Flanagan actually said. (Not the headlines. Not the interpretations of what he supposedly said. What he actually said.) Then decide. Does he have the right to say that? Yes or no?
Unfortunately, the hysterical mob says no. The CBC said no. The University of Calgary said no.
Perhaps they are morally outraged by his comments. But that wasn’t the question.
Last week was a bad week for free speech in Canada. There was the Flanagan fiasco. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the country’s vile and detestable “hate speech” law. David Suzuki tried to have a reporter he didn’t like kicked out of a public meeting.
Of course, these recent events provide additional evidence for the unfortunate but valid notion that almost any week is a bad week for free speech in Canada.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org