Friday, September 29, 2017

Sadly, not the weirdest moment in my newspaper career (Spoiler alert: Charges were stayed)

Newspaper pleads not guilty
RED DEER, Alta. (CP) — The Red Deer Advocate has pleaded not guilty to incitement to commit a criminal offence, a charge that resulted from a controversy over abstract metal sculptures one resident described as “piles of rusted out snowplow blades.” The Advocate was charged last month under a rarely used section of the Criminal Code as a result of a column June 30. The trial begins Feb. 5 in provincial court. The column, by freelance writer Ian Coleman, suggested someone load a 12-gauge shotgun with double-0 buckshot and shoot one of the sculptures. They were built for $75,000 as part of Alberta’s 75th anniversary celebrations four years ago and have long been a source of controversy and derision in Red Deer. In his column, Coleman said the sculptures “are an affront to the eye, an insult to common aesthetic sense” and “have been an embarrassment to the citizens of Red Deer since they arrived.” He said the only way to deal with the worst of the sculptures, a rusty, boxy “monstrosity” visible from the city’s main north-south thoroughfare, “is to alter its form.” “A civic-minded individual with courage, a car and a gun, could drive down 50th Avenue just before dawn, when the streets are empty, and shoot the sculpture; the shot would dent it just enough so the city would have to haul it away,” Coleman wrote. An RCMP spokesman said no shots were ever fired at the piece. Crown prosecutor Burt Skinner said the charge was laid after several complaints. The maximum penalty is six months in jail and/or a $500 fine. Skinner said the charge is rare because the public does not like to see freedom of the press infringed. But, he said, newspapers have a responsibility to monitor the opinion they print. 
   Publisher Paul Willcocks said the Advocate column was tongue-in-cheek. “It was meant to be funny.”
   He said the column was part “of a long tradition of making a point in an exaggerated way” and the charge will not change The Advocate’s policy on running columns.
   The best known similar case in Canadian law is the 1971 British Columbia conviction of Georgia Straight Publishing Ltd., which once encouraged people to grow marijuana.
   The Poundmaker, a now-defunct paper in Edmonton, was charged with a similar offence in 1974 when it ran several advertisements urging people to shoplift.
   Jim Robb, the defence lawyer in the Edmonton case, said The Poundmaker argued that the ads were a spoof and the argument ‘‘was accepted without ever having to call a defence.”
  While the pieces have not been shot at they have been physically and verbally abused since they were put up three years ago.
   Bill Bodnaruk, an unsuccessful aldermanic candidate last October, said the works are “piles of rusted out snow-plow blades, a terrible waste of money” and should be sold for scrap.