Careless charges dropped

TORONTO, ON - After nine and a half months and 13 court dates, Crown counsel has dropped the charges against freelance journalist Sue Careless and agreed to return the film confiscated at her arrest.

Careless was charged last October 15, along with two other journalists, with obstructing a peace officer while covering the arrest of pro-life demonstrator Linda Gibbons at a Toronto abortion clinic. Charges against Gord Truscott and Steve Jalsevac were withdrawn June 21.

But a different Crown counsel, Rob Geurts, was hearing Careless's case. He eventually agreed on July 28 to withdraw the charges, explaining that "there is no reasonable probability of a conviction," and that he wished to be consistent with the other Crown counsel's earlier decision to drop charges against Truscott and Jalsevac.

The ordeal has been difficult for Careless, an award-winning journalist and frequent contributor to Christianweek. "One can handle three hours in detention, including the threat of a strip search," she says, "but being strung out in the limbo of the criminal justice system is abysmal."

Careless says she has felt supported over the months by friends and colleagues, both in the church press and in the secular media organizations. "If the words 'criminal' and 'the accused' were the most frightening to me in these last nine months," she says, "the words 'family, friends and colleagues' became the most precious."

Lawyer Peter Jervis took on Careless's case at a greatly reduced rate because he believes in the freedom of the press. The Canadian Association of Journalists, the Periodical Writers Association of Canada, the Book and Periodical Council and the Canadian Church Press all went to bat for Careless.

Still, Careless worries that freedom of the press in Canada is a losing battle. "There is a disturbing trend of journalists being harassed and arrested while covering all sorts of demonstrations," she notes. Montreal photographer Andrew Dobrowlskyj is the latest casualty in the zeal to clean up demonstrations (CW, Jul25/00).

But her encounter with the legal system also strengthens her resolve in covering stories she believes should be covered. "After all," she points out, "freedom of the press is not for the benefit of journalists but for the benefit of the public and protects their right to know."

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