Teenage blogger and newspaper writer, Walker Morrow, has become something of a balloon boy for older bloggers in Canada who have been crticizing erosion of free speech and other constitutional rights by Human Rights Commissions. They watched in amazement as media giant Canwest abandoned Morrow when legal action was threatened over his article, “Questionable Conduct of CHRC”. The article was published in The Cowichan Valley Citizen newspaper and on various sites in the Canwest chain. First it was up. Then it was down.
Morrow described on his blog, Blog of Walker, how readers lost sight of his article:
''I wasn’t aware of the article’s disappearance at first, but I got a couple of emails, from one of the posters at Free Dominion and from a blogger acquaintance of mine, who were asking what had happened to the original article. You see, it had been published in the print edition of the Citizen, on the Citizen website, and also on Canada.com, the website for the print section of the Can-West media empire, of which the Citizen is a part. The text of the article on Canada.com had disappeared, although the title remained, and at first I thought it might just be some weird glitch in the HTML of the page or something. So I pointed at least one of the concerned parties ( can’t remember right now if it was both ) toward the version on the Citizen website. But that, too, soon disappeared; all that remained was a small piece of text telling the web-page viewer that the article was no longer available. The article had been picked up by Global Calgary; that version disappeared as well. The only available version left was up on Free Dominion, where one poster had posted a copy of it. The Free Dominion copy remains about the only one available - although I think another web forum or two have picked it up; I would say Free Dominion remains the most credible.”
Morrow’s editor told him that legal action had been threatened by Richard Warman, an Ottawa lawyer who was apparently representing himself. Warman’s name is well known to bloggers monitoring the Human Rights Commission. Warman has initiated a number of complaints against groups and individuals, alleging violations of the Canadian Human Rights Act. He also launched a libel suit in 2008 against three Canadian bloggers, all outspoken critics of the CHRC - Ezra Levant, Kate McMillan and Kathy Shaidle — and the owners of Free Dominion, a conservative chat site.
After Morrow’s article disappeared, he and a parent, the Citizen’s editor and publisher, and a Can-West representative held a conference call. Morrow got a chuckle out of learning during that call that Warman had threatened the wrong newspaper at first, mistaking “the Citizen” for the major paper, The Ottawa Citizen. Morrow was able to provide his sources to Canwest.
Canwest nonetheless asked Morrow to sign a retraction. His parent told him to get legal advice first. Then Canwest asked him to sign an even stiffer retraction. He refused. Can-West ran the retraction anyway, without his name.
Can-West, a media empire with newspapers and television stations across Canada, is in bankruptcy protection. That may be the reason Canwest abandoned him, Truepeers, a blogger at covenantzone.blogspot.com who regularly criticizes the CHRC, told Morrow in a comment on Blog of Walker:
”This Warman threat is just a necessary bump/challenge….As for the newspaper I figure it’s a cold business decision from a bankruptcy case. Tough break not to get their full support; but such are the evils of our world. You will have the support of much of the blogosphere….”
Struggling to stay afloat itself, Canwest was apparently in no position to struggle to keep free speech afloat.