CANADA'S press is locked in a pivotal battle with the Canadian
judiciary over the public's right to know what happens in Canadian
An intense public debate in Canada has surfaced in the last two
months over whether Canadian newspapers and television should be
allowed to report the details of the July trial of a woman
convicted in the torture and killings of two teenage girls.
Karla Homolka was sentenced to 12 years in prison for her part
in two gruesome sex-related murders. That scant information is all
28 million Canadians know about the murder case - at least
An Ontario judge banned all reporting of Ms. Homolka's trial,
citing the need to protect the right of a second defendant,
Homolka's husband, Paul Teale, to a fair trial. He is charged with
the two murders and 43 counts of sex-related offenses. Homolka's
teenage sister, who died after allegedly being drugged and raped by
Homolka and Teale may have been an additional victim.
Rumor and speculation about the murders have become a leading
topic of conversation across Canada, and the publication ban itself
has intensified gossip and media interest worldwide.
Free-speech advocates and media lawyers are protesting the ban,
pointing out that Mr. Teale's lawyers did not even request it. The
Toronto Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and other news organizations
will argue to lift the ban at a Jan. 31 appeal hearing. If that
fails, the ban will remain until Mr. Teale's trial concludes late
next year or early 1995.
The ban is part of what appears to be a widening battle that
includes everything from court-ordered publication bans to
legislation outlawing the publication of election polls within 72
hours of an election.
Unlike the United States, Canada's tradition of freedom of the
press has been a part of its Constitution only since 1982, when the
Charter of Rights and Freedoms enunciated rights to free expression
and a free press.
"There had been a trend toward publication bans and
restrictions on the press," says Jamie Cameron, a free-speech
expert at the University of Toronto's Osgoode Hall School of Law.
"One would have expected more, not less, freedom of speech since
1982. But my own perception is that exactly the opposite has
Canadian cable-TV operators last month dutifully blocked
incoming US signals of "A Current Affair," which carried details
of the trial. Some Canadians received the show on satellite dishes.
Computer bulletin boards at the University of Toronto that were
exchanging details were shut down. Others continued.
News leaks across border
In several editions this summer, the Toronto Globe and Mail
printed short reports on its front page headlined: "Another Story
We Can't Report."
Canadian news media so far are virtually all complying with the
ban. US newspapers complied until recently. A weekly newspaper in
Victoria, British Columbia, broke the ban earlier this month. But
a flood of US-based news accounts full of prohibited details has
gushed across the border in recent weeks.
The furor ballooned following a detailed account of the
prohibited trial information printed Nov. 23 in the Washington
Post. The article was reprinted in the Nov. 28 edition of the
Buffalo (N.Y.) News, and many Canadians drove across the bridge to
Buffalo for a copy or two to share.
The story went global when Canadian customs agents, acting on
orders of the provincial attorney general's office, stopped
Canadians returning across the border from Buffalo near Niagara