CCLA has made submissions to Bernard Richard, the former Ombudsman of New Brunswick, for his review of the arrest and investigation of Charles LeBlanc for criminal libel that took place earlier this year in Fredericton. CCLA’s submissions focus specifically on freedom of expression and police accountability issues that arise from this incident, in particular: i) the unconstitutionality of criminal defamation; ii) how public officials ought to respond to offensive speech in a liberal democracy; and iii) CCLA’s concern with the execution of the search warrant with regard to Mr. LeBlanc’s computer.
CCLA argues that the defamatory libel offences in the Criminal Code are unconstitutional and their use can place a chill on expression. Responses to offensive, false or distasteful speech are primarily a communication—not a criminal or legal—issue, and public officials and institutions ought to use “the least chilling means” to protect the democratic function of freedom of expression when responding to speech believed to be beyond the bounds of acceptability. As well, this case raises questions regarding the proper exercise of police investigative powers in the face of communication technologies such as computers which, along with the internet, can allow access to a vast amount of private data. Police should not use search and seizure powers punitively or to remove an individual’s medium of expression simply because what he or she says is disliked.