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CBC wins Publication Ban court victory

SASKATOON - A Provincial Court Judge in Saskatoon has found CBC Television not guilty of breaching a court order. The charges were laid by the province after the complainant in a sexual assault trial [Jack Ramsay] was interviewed and identified.

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The complainant Marilyn Merasty said she wanted to go public with her story to encourage other victims of sexual abuse to come forward.

The province said the woman had no clear right to reveal her identity without a court order.

The Judge agreed with the CBC that the victim's wishes and freedom of the press over-ride the wishes of the Crown. Michael Tochor represented the CBC in the case.

"I think it will be a very good impact for all complainants and victims because for those who want their identities known, they'll have that right and they'll have some control, or some voice, in that process. Those that do not will not have their rights affected in any way."

The province says that the identity of all sexual assault complainants must be kept a secret.

The Judge ruled that section of the criminal code that allows the publication bans, contravenes the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression for the complainant, since it only allows for the prosecution to ask that an order be lifted.

The province has 30 days to appeal.

Jo-Lynne Sheane

Jo-Lynne Sheane

FLASH: Jo-Lynne's and CBC's case has been postponed until Nov. 20-21, 2002. A former print journalist with the StarPhoenix, Jo-Lynne Sheane took on a television job with CBC Saskatchewan during days when there were not many TV reporters working for the public broadcaster. She spent a lot of time on the road before moving to Winnipeg where she now works for CBC.

Thoroughly professional, she is a compassionate reporter who covered the reunion of the Ross children in February, 2001. She familiarized herself with the foster parent case which sealed documents and publication bans have made difficult to report. Dan Zakreski, the StarPhoenix reporter who took up covering the case in 1999 has also been hit with charges -- not for this case but for an unrelated one.

The Saskatchewan government threatened to take CBC Fifth Estate to court if the producers released the names on the Scandal of the Century Show which first aired November 29, 2000. CBC went ahead and the Saskatchewan government state publicly it did not intend to proceed with charges.

Judge Paul Hrabinsky is greatly mistaken when he makes the statement that
". . . this kind of ban is automatic under the Criminal Code."

It is not.

The Gordon Cole case is one in point. When the victims asked to have the ban lifted, the judge complied readily, seeing the logic of the argument. The story was covered.

Marilyn Merasty, the complainant against Ramsay whose name was published changed her mind about wanting to go public after the Hrabinsky made his authoritarian pronouncement.

Update: The trial was scheduled for April 15 so we went to the provincial courthouse to disclover that it had first been postponed for three days and then adjourned to Nov. 20-21!

inJusticebusters and Star Chamber material was being distributed in front of both city courthouses in clear defiance of the nonpublication orders. Judge Paul Hrabinsky, the mad banner, was nowhere to be seen.

CBC charged with breaking publication ban

Broadcaster airs interview with victim in Ramsay case

Reform MP Jack Ramsay

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. has been charged with violating a publication ban ordered by a judge in the sexual assault case against former Reform MP Jack Ramsay.

Two identical charges stem from a news item that aired last May, which included an on-camera interview with one of the women who accused Ramsay (seen with his wife) of sexually assaulting her 30 years ago when he was an RCMP officer in Pelican Narrows.

Defence lawyer Michael Tochor, acting on behalf of the public broadcaster, appeared in Saskatoon provincial court Wednesday and entered a not guilty plea. A trial has been set for Sept. 10 and 11. The CBC has been aware the charges were pending since late last year, Tochor said.

The Calgary woman, who cannot be named [Marilyn Merasty] because of the publication ban, agreed to allow CBC to use her name and image in its broadcast, telling them she felt it was part of her healing process to go public with her claim, Tochor told reporters.

That might be used as a defence, though there are few legal precedents to go by, he said.

"Part of the problem is these charges are so rare that there's very little information across the country."

Tochor said he has not been able to find another such case in Saskatchewan history.

The situation is complicated by two contradictory orders issued by judges when the Ramsay case first went to court. Judge Claude Fafard refused to order a ban on publication of the two complainants' identities in October, 1998, ruling that 30 years had gone by since the alleged incidents and there was no public interest in keeping the complainants' identities under wraps.

Several media outlets - including The StarPhoenix, CBC and the Canadian Press newswire service - published the women's names before the ruling was overturned by Queen's Bench Justice Paul Hrabinsky, who ruled Fafard had made a mistake because this kind of ban is automatic under the Criminal Code.

A ban subsequently issued by Hrabinsky was in effect, however, when CBC broadcast the interview with the woman last May.

"There are some legal questions there as well as some journalistic questions," Tochor said, noting the purpose of this kind of publication ban is to protect victims of sexual assault from further anguish caused by publicity.

But this is an example of a grey area where the victim feels publicity is more conducive to healing than secrecy, he said.

Officials with Saskatchewan Justice refused to discuss why the charge was laid because the matter is before the courts.