Victoria Christian Artist fined $2500 for blogging about clergy sexual abuse
Posted on June 23, 2014
Gregory Hartnell: criminalized for publicizing clergy sexual abuse.
Special to the Vancouver Island Christian News
VICTORIA – Likely the final legal reverberations from the Father Phil Jacobs sexual abuse case have probably occurred with the $2,500-fine meted out to Victoria Catholic artist and activist Gregory Hartnell for blogging details of the preliminary hearing back in 2011.
Jacobs case took two years from there to finally see the towering, 63-year-old , liberal Catholic priest get convicted on one count of sexually touching a teen altar boy at St. Joseph the Worker school.
He was acquitted on three other counts involving two other altar boys.
Hartnell’s case took a year longer to get through trial, conviction and now, finally, sentencing.
But it was as if the offense were yesterday, as the judge, Wayne Smith, hotly lambasted Hartnell for “flagrantly” disobeying another judge’s publication ban on the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing. (Such bans by judges—at the request of either lawyer–have become virtually automatic in the last few decades.)
Declared Smith: Hartnell had shown “a complete lack of respect” for the court, and shown he believed himself “above the law.”
That is, Hartnell had attended the hearing and then blogged about it on his private site; and then filed his comments to a public site devoted solely to abuse by Canadian Catholic priests.
The Saanich police has obviously set a search engine loose to check for ban breachers (they tracked down and admonished this writer too) and found Hartnell.
Hartnell’s lawyer argued for an absolute discharge on the grounds he had learned his lesson and was sorry (a last minute apology was the proof); had been punished enough by being put on trial; had contracted shingles because of the stress; could not work as a result, so that his wife would be the one who paid off any fine.
Smith went on at length at the sentencing hearing dismissing all these factors.
He was sure the apology was insincere and that Hartnell was unrepentant.
The Crown presented evidence that Hartnell was still active (in municipal politics) and he accepted this.
There must be a strong penalty, he insisted, to bring home the point that court orders “must be respected and must be complied with.”
Complied with, certainly; but respected?
This is like trying to compel thought. Sorry Judge Smith. You cannot compel respect.
Anybody on the right or libertarian side of the political spectrum loses respect for the courts and the judicial system daily.
When you read that a majority of British Columbia’s law society members (lawyers and judges) want to ban any grads of Trinity Western University from practicing law here, because that school is Christian, does it increase or decrease your respect for the law?
As for the publication bans in general, they obviously violate the fundamental principle of British Common Law that justice is to be conducted in public.
They contain an inherent contradiction, because the public can attend the hearing: they just can’t publish the result.
The witnesses are sworn, they are also cross-examined but reporters cannot publish their stories.
The legal profession has forgotten why trials and hearings are public: it’s so that the public can make sure the lawyers and judges don’t mess up, and the witnesses don’t lie.
The more people know what was claimed on the witness stand, the more chance a liar will be caught by someone who knows better.
(“That boy couldn’t have been molested on that weekend by Fr.X. That boy was in Vancouver at a hockey tournament with me.”)
What about publication bans that are always in place in sexual abuse cases on any information that could identify the victims?
The above imagined scenario shows why a case can be made for this ban also to be lifted.
The argument for the ban is that this protects the victim from stigmatization.
I say: the secrecy increases the stigma.
The victims have done nothing wrong so why behave as if they have done?
What’s more, the ban protects the family name, which often means the perpetrator, who often is a member of the family.
Now Hartnell is a victim too.
Steve Weatherbe is a journalist with 30 years experience, specializing in religion and public issues, a conservative Catholic Christian, a supporter of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, living in Victoria, British Columbia. Canada