Thursday, March 1, 2007

Hickey's defamation suit is proceeding

So, the comedy begins. I see that John Hickey filed his defamation suit today against former premier Roger Grimes. You can read about it in this CBC story.

To add to the joke, Grimes has now threatened to file a suit against Premier Danny Williams, for supposedly putting words in Grimes mouth that the erstwhile premier did not utter.

As noted in a previous post, this is a tactical error on Hickey’s behalf (and Williams too, if indeed he is pulling the strings here). The media is gleefully going to follow this story while it plays itself out, and there will be close scrutiny not only about what Grimes said, but also what Hickey did to prompt the remarks.

Let’s put this in some context. I have been filing expense and travel claims for various employers since 1984. Not once – not a single time – have I billed twice for any of my expenses. And I suck at math!

Once or twice, I found a Visa slip and wondered if it had been claimed. Knowing that my purchase would also be accompanied by a cash register receipt, I checked previous claims to see if it had already been reimbursed. I knew better than to submit the expense automatically.

The Auditor General found that John Hickey double-billed not once, but 20 times! The police investigated and found insufficient evidence to lay criminal charges. Is this “vindication”, as was claimed at the time? Whether or not there was criminal intent, there are still some good questions to be asked about the competency of whoever filed those claims. And these proceedings will drag this out, in painstaking detail. How can Hickey actually ‘win’ in the face of that?

As VOCM Open Line host Randy Simms said tonight on the CBC Here & Now political panel: “John Hickey should suck it up and move on.”

Let’s put aside tactics for a moment and talk about strategy. This suit against Grimes, and the Premier’s threat to sue others who “take down the reputation of people who are in public life” seems like an attempt to cast a libel chill over public debate in this province. In other words, ‘think twice before you criticize!’

If this indeed is the strategy, is it working? I don’t think so. The public seems to have become agitated by the Premier’s remarks, and are as vociferous as ever. The open lines are still abuzz, letters to the editor continue to pour in and bloggers aren’t pulling any punches at all. It’s going to take more than a legal threat to shut up the people of this province, saucy bunch of crackies that we are.

The media haven’t knuckled under either. The last edition of The Business Post (dated February 19, 2007) contained what is probably the most outspoken editorial I’ve ever read from Craig Westcott, who is known far and wide for his acid-tongued commentaries. I will have more on The Business Post in a future entry.

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