Op-Ed from Dr Paul WIlliams
AMERICANS SHOULD NOT BE STRIPPED OF THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES
I am a United States citizen on trial in Canada for exposing a situation at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario that threatened the lives and welfare of Canadians and Americans alike. My book "The Dunces of Doomsday," published in the U.S. by Cumberland House, revealed potential terrorist threats from al- Qaeda affiliates at McMaster. The university is suing me for libel, demanding $4 million in punitive and aggregated damages.
Unlike American libel laws where the plaintiff must prove that what said about him is not true and it was said in malice, Canadian libel laws, like the British, put the burden of proof on the defendant, not on the plaintiff.
What I wrote and said about McMaster from my home in Pennsylvania falls well within the standards of responsible journalism. Nevertheless, I have been dragged into court in Toronto, Canada, to be tried under Canadian law that lacks the U.S. Constitutional protection of free speech.
This ordeal has damaged my professional career, depleted my life savings, and placed me in financial jeopardy.
I am not alone.
Other writers have suffered a similar fate, including Joe Sharkey, a New Jersey-based freelance business journalist is being sued for reporting about a plane crash he survived over the Amazon. A woman who claims Sharkey offended the “dignity” of Brazil by criticizing its air-traffic control is suing him for libel in Brazil. This despite the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board’s conclusion that the Brazilian air traffic control was responsible to the crash. She demands $500,000 and apologies in national and international media outlets.
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, whose criticism of a Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi billionaire who funded al Qaeda, has resulted in a judgment by default in British court against her for allegedly defaming the Saudi. She was ordered to pay $250,000, apologize in international media outlets and destroy her book: Funding Evil; How Terrorism Is Financed – and How to Stop It.
The same ordeal can befall all investigative reporters in the U.S. unless federal legislators pass The Free Speech Protection Act 2009, which is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Last week my pretrial took place in Toronto. It was not a pleasant experience. My Canadian lawyers and the appointed mediator spent seven hours attempting to coerce me into signing an apology to McMaster University for stating the truth. They maintained that none of my statements were factual according to Canadian libel laws.
I pointed to the fact that McMaster was home to several al-Qaeda members who plotted to blow up Canada’s Parliament and behead its prime minister. In fact, a week before my pretrial took place, the guilty plea of a McMaster student, Saad Gaya, to charges of terrorism captured the headlines of Canadian newspapers. Gaya was one of eighteen al-Qaeda affiliates also charged with planning to blow up trucks loaded with bombs at the Toronto Stock Exchange, the Toronto office of the Canadian Security intelligence Service and a military base on Ontario. He was the eleventh to be convicted. The remaining seven members of the group, known as the “Toronto 18,” remain in prison awaiting trial. Such statements of fact have done little to persuade McMaster to drop the lawsuit, and my trial is set for April 2010.
In Canada, as in England and Brazil, truth is not an absolute defense.
No American citizen should be stripped of his/her Constitutional rights by foreign countries or foreign entities.
Congress should act immediately to pass the Free Speech Protection Act 2009.
Paul L. Williams, Ph.D.