Not guilty means not guilty
By Ulli Diemer
The gay news magazine, The Body Politic, is organizing a public campaign to make Attorney General Roy McMurtry withdraw an appeal against the magazine’s acquittal on obscenity charges last year.
Last February, Ontario provincial court judge Sydney M. Harris acquitted The Body Politic of a charge that an issue of the publication was “indecent, immoral, scurrilous.” The Crown is appealing the acquittal, under a quirk of Canadian law that allows the Crown to appeal acquittals. The effect of the law is to create a form of double jeopardy: if a person or organization is acquitted on a charge the first time, the Crown can go right back and try again to get a conviction on the identical charge in another court.
The Body Politic is prepared to fight the appeal, but it is also trying to persuade McMurtry to reconsider the appeal and withdraw it. Each time the paper has to go to court, it has to spend thousands of dollars and a great deal of time in defending itself. The Body Politic fears that the effect of the Crown’s prolonged assault on it may be to bankrupt it through legal fees, even though the charges themselves fail.
To try to prevent this, The Body Politic Free the Press Fund is taking out a full-page ad in the Globe and Mail, which it hopes to have signed by 1,000 people, urging that the charges be dropped. Supporters are asked to send contributions of about $10 to help pay for the ad. Donations can be sent to The Body Politic Free the Press Fund, Box 72889, Station A, Toronto, M5W 1X9.
Meanwhile, in a related development, the Crown has been ordered to return materials seized from the offices of The Body Politic two years ago and to pay the paper’s legal costs of getting the material back.
The court ruled that the Crown had no reason to hold the material and that the Crown’s action had caused “inconvenience, distress and monetary loss” to the paper. Twelve cartons of material were taken by police in the raid, including subscription and advertiser lists. Yet not a single piece of paper from all the materials used was ever introduced in evidence. Indeed, no supporting documentary evidence was necessary to the Crown’s case, since the paper freely admitted having published the article in question. Yet the Crown refused to return the materials even after The Body Politic was acquitted.
Even now, the Crown is appealing the court order telling it to return the materials.
Published in Seven News, Volume 10, Number 14, 11 January 1980.