I have not written much lately – but some events are so important that they simply must be written about.
Yesterday, 21st of July, 2011, I went down to the fancy courthouse on Elgin St, Ottawa, to observe the ‘Summary Motion’ hearing in the civil court case where John Baglow, aka ‘Dr. Dawg’, is suing Connie and Mark Fournier of the Free Dominion discussion forum and a member of the forum who posts under the name ‘Peter O’Donnel’.
In the past, whenever I went to one or another such hearing, I would take copious notes and then write them up – along with my impressions and never-humble-opinions into a post. Now, thanks to my clutziness, neither one of my arms is fully functional… so my notes are nowhere near as exhaustive and my account will necessarily be shorter; less of a record of what had happened and more of my impressions and opinions of what had happened. My apologies – but that is the best I can deliver right now.
John Baglow blogs as ‘Dr. Dawg’ (according to his lawyer, ‘he likes dogs’) – a somewhat typical ‘left-winger’ blogger (if there is such a thing) in the Canadian political blogosphere. From the words of his lawyer, we learned that he is a contractor who usually works on contracts for public sector unions and the Conference Board of Canada ( if I am deciphering my notes correctly).
‘Peter O’Donnel’ is a contributor to (and a moderator on) Free Dominion, one of (if not THE) oldest political opinion forum in Canada, focusing mostly on ‘little c’ conservative and libertarian issues. Free Dominion is run by Connie and Mark Fournier.
In the backdrop of ‘the Omar Khadr‘ affair, much discussion was happening in much of Canada about these happenings. On the one hand, some Canadians thought that Omar Khadr was a child caught in a war and an unfortunate victim of circumstances. On the other hand, many people saw him as a young man who took up arms on the side of the Taliban, who lay in wait until a US medic came to tend to a wounded person and then cowardly murdered him – and who therefore deserves to be punished in accordance with the law.
The crux of ‘the Khadr affair’ lies in Omar Khadr’s age at the time he committed the act of terrorism (and, a court of law did find that he did indeed commit one): under some laws, he was a ‘child’ while under other laws he was an adult. A polarizing issue, to say the least. But this is not about Omar Khadr – it is about a discussion regarding him, during which tempers flew high and debates degenerated into name-calling ‘online-brawls’.
2. What both sides agree about (as I understand it – if I am in error, please, let me know and I’ll amend!)
Something posted on Jay Currie’s blog (a blog with a conservative perspective, but where people of many stripes of opinion tended to exchange opinions in the comment section – but which was no longer up at the time of this hearing) sparked a discussion about the Omar Khadr affair, with many participants, two of whom were ‘Dr. Dawg’ and “Peter O’Donnel’.
The exchanges got heated, to say the least.
This discussion got moved from Jay Currie’s blog to Dr. Dawg’s blog, where the heated exchanges continued among various posters including ‘Dr. Dawg’ and ‘Peter O’Donnel’. It was said in court that at least one of these posts where the debated continued (in the comment sections) had 89 comments, of which 33 belonged to ‘Peter O’Donnel’.
‘Peter O’Donnel’ opened a discussion on this topic on the Free Dominion discussion forum, where the bulk of the debate then moved.
Both parties called each other names. Nasty names. ‘Peter O’Donnel’ stated the opinion (and I AM paraphrasing) that IF one supports Omar Khadr – who had indeed been convicted of terrorist activity on behalf of the Taliban – then one is ‘a vocal supported of the Taliban’. (‘Dr. Dawg’ was ‘a supporter’ of Omar Khadr – one of the people who portrayed him as a victim.)
Mr. Baglow (‘Dr. Dawg’) then created a sock-puppet persona called ‘Miss Miew’ (sp? I only heard it in court, so I may have mangled it – my apologies) who was posting in support of ‘Dr. Dawg’ and who ‘outed’ ‘Dr. Dawg’ as John Baglow by saying something to the effect of ‘Hey, this guy called Dr. Dawg a Taliban supporter – John Baglow should sue him for calling him that!’ (again, I was just listening in court and taking notes, so I am necessarily paraphrasing…)
Not satisfied with having publicly linked his own name to his online persona, John Baglow then proceeded to re-publish the exchange on his own blog. ( And, he left it up for many months.)
John Baglow contacted Connie Fournier and complained to her about the comment he had found offensive – on the Free Dominion site, that is, not from his own site. He demanded an apology and that the comments be removed right away. Free Dominion did not apologize nor remove the comments.
Hence, the lawsuit for defamation.
3. The ‘legal occasion’ (as I understand it)
All parties in the lawsuit had submitted affidavits in which each one of them explained ‘their side’ of the issue.
In Ontario (where this case is being heard), the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure contain something called ‘Rule 20’ (see the ‘Some legal precedents…’ page at the top of my blog for more details) which, in a nutshell, is a
‘Rule allowing for summary judgment where there is no genuine issue for trial, and the proposed revisions that would allow for an issue to be settled by way of mini-trial.’
In a full-blown trial, there is testimony, cross-examination and ‘the full works’. It is costly and can drag on for years.
This ‘mini-trial’ is an alternative which can be used when one of the parties concerns files a “Motion for Summary Judgment’. A real, honest-to-goodness judge (not a moderator or a semi-judge) will listen to both parties and decide whether or not the ‘facts’ of the case are all in the submissions (so there would be no need for cross-examination and so on) and some other factors (which I am not so clear about) are satisfied.
If so and the case is pretty much ‘clear’ based on the materials which had already been submitted, then the judge has all that she/he requires to pass a judgment on the case. (This is the ‘mini-trial’.)
If not and there are facts which are in dispute or which can only be clarified through a full trial, the judge will not render a ‘summary judgment’ on the case but will instead order a full trial to be held.
On June 21st, 2011, I attended this hearing of a Motion for Summary Judgment which had been filed by the defendants in this Baglow defamation case.
It was very interesting.
Continued in Part 2.