Green Party vs. Free Speech?

In a recent article posted to Victoria Indymedia entitled Green Party vs. Free Speech (See WayBackMachine archive of article), an accusation was made that the Green Party is opposed to Free Speech. I am a member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and active supporter of their Blue Ribbon Campaign for free speech online. I am also a member of the Green Party of Ontario and Canada.

Given these personal connections, and appearance of considerable conflict, I feel it necessary to report on this issue.

This article will serve the purpose of publishing in one place the outcome of various types of research I did on this issue. The intent is to inform people of the current issues so that they can make their own decisions, and hopefully bring these issues to some sort of resolution soon.

There are two related issues which must be separated in order to adequately explain the problem. The first issue is primarily an internal Green Party organizational problem, and will have to be dealt with by the membership of those political parties.

The second and more critical issue is of general concern to all activists who publish public political commentary, and rely on public support for Freedom of Speech in order to get their message out.

  1. A campaign by current Green Party of Ontario and Green Party of Canada member Richard Warman against one-time Green Party of England/Wales member/spokesperson David Icke. David Icke was a member from 1987-1991 when he "left the Party in a blaze of negative publicity" [A brief history of The Green Party 1973-1998]. He has since become a highly controversial author and speaker who a number of Green Party members believe is a racist.

    I do not wish to enter a debate about Icke at this time, or comment on Warman's claimed "anti-Racism work". Whether Icke is-or-is-not an anti-Semetic speaker/writer, there are problems with the methods used by the campaign that the councils of the Green Party of Ontario and Canada endorsed. I will consider these issues in a separate article, as the second issue can and should be considered separately.

  2. Richard Warman, claiming to be acting as an individual citizen, is writing letters to Webmasters and their ISP's threatening lawsuits in relation to alleged "defamation" against him. I have not seen evidence that Richard Warman is claiming to be representing the Green Party, but there are indications that he is mentioning that he is a lawyer. Due to the extra weight that being a lawyer appears to carry, people are taking his threats seriously while they might otherwise simply ignore his messages.

    This campaign seems to be directly related to the anti-Icke campaign, and the Green Party did endorse Warman's activities in relation to Icke. I consider any confusion as to whether the Green Party endorses these additional "defamation" claims to be totally understandable, and it is up to the Green Party council and membership to publicly clarify its position on this issue.

    I have personally read the so-called "defamatory letters" and disagree with Warman's evaluation that they were defamatory. The articles written are no more harsh than what is said on an average "Air Farce" or "This hour has 22 minutes" episode.

    Richard Warman is a public figure having run as a candidate for election and being closely associated with a registered provincial and federal political party. He is carrying out a campaign against another public and controversial person. Having negative commentary about ones actions published is a regular, and normally fully expected, part of political life.

    I consider his actions to be a form of threatened-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation).

In this article I offer myself as a whistle blower who strongly believes in public accountability and transparency of political parties and campaigns. I became involved with the Green Party specifically because I saw them as the party best able to represent my views on electoral and other democratic reforms. I hope this article will help spark some movement for reform within the Green Party itself to ensure that it becomes true to the values that attracted me to it.

Beyond being a member of the Green Party, I have also served on both the federal and provincial web-teams. Until the end of February 2002 I hosted the provincial GreenParty.on.ca domain, and until the end of January 2002 offered services to the Green Party of Canada.

The recent case that sparked these articles

To begin, I want to indicate what was on Richard Finnegan's Counter-Propaganda website which was considered by one member of the Green Party and a likely scare-tactic frightened person at Shaw Communications Inc. to be worthy of requiring editing or the removal of this users ISP account.

Within the Counter Propaganda website at <http://members.shaw.ca/revelation18/> there was a small section, directly quoting from the first paragraph of the article Richard Finnegan was referencing:


[Image of book cover not shown to save space - go to Icke site to see]

2001/11/15 ENEMY OF FREEDOM SEEKS TO STOP CIRCULATION OF CHILDREN OF THE MATRIX, By David Icke: "For many months, Richard Warman of the Ontario Green Party, has been trying to intimidate bookshops and suppliers in North America to stop selling Children of the Matrix. He is now trying to do the same in the United Kingdom"


After receiving notice from Shaw Communications Inc. of a message sent from Richard Warman, the page was forced to be edited to remove a few references. One can quickly note that since the paragraph was simply a quote from another site that retains the original information, the editing served no purpose other than to hilight the communication with Shaw.

As of the writing of this article, this section has been moved to another page <http://members.shaw.ca/revelation18/newworld.htm#notfree> and reads:


[Image of book cover not shown to save space - go to Icke site to see]

2001/11/15 ENEMY OF FREEDOM SEEKS TO STOP CIRCULATION OF CHILDREN OF THE MATRIX, By David Icke: "For many months, _______ of the Ontario _____ Party, has been trying to intimidate bookshops and suppliers in North America to stop selling Children of the Matrix. He is now trying to do the same in the United Kingdom"

Related:

2001/11/24 The 'F' Word Strikes in Canada AGAIN!

SO WHO ARE THESE "GR##NS"? By David Icke (Background info on the W##man-Icke Dispute)

[Note from Counter-Propaganda: The stories in this block of articles have been edited and censored due to a request from my ISP, who was, in my my opinion, frivilously pressured by the individual discussed in the articles above to have me edit the content of my *headlines*, which are comprised of little more than titles and brief quotes relating to a subject that has been in print (and on the web in different formats) for almost eight months now. Rather than seeking out the progenitor of the allegedly "libelous" statements, the subject of these articles chose instead to pick on an easy target; namely, me (even though I did not originate the story and had no intent whatsoever other than reporting something that is readily available to anyone with an internet connection). To find out who this individual is and what he is up to, you will have to leave this site and go to another site where the information is stored by an ISP and individuals willing to stand up for free speech. If you find his behavior outrageous, you might consider contacting the individual and the party he represents and letting them know what your feelings are. While I do not agree with everything Mr.Icke says, I certainly support his right to say it, particularly considering the fact that the subject of these articles has allegedly hounded Mr..Icke on a quasi-moral agenda apparently designed to prevent Mr.Icke from voicing and publishing his interpretations of the political and spiritual nature of the world in which we live.]



A justifiably angered Richard Finnegan wrote a letter to David Icke expressing his frustration about what Warman had done. It was this letter that was forwarded to the Victoria IndyMedia.

An unedited archive of the IndyMedia article included an introduction by someone using a handle of "Bluebird" that is archived on the WayBackMachine at <http://web.archive.org/web/*/victoria.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=1497&group=webcast>. I am only going to include the letter written by Richard Finnegan. It is important to read this letter as it appears to form the basis of Richard Warman's threats against additional people who have redistributed this letter.

ALERT: Richard Warman of the Green party cracking down on websites that merely mention David Icke's views!

To David Icke and his readers

(For immediate release)

Re: ENEMY OF FREEDOM SEEKS TO STOP CIRCULATION OF CHILDREN OF THE MATRIX

I am writing in reference to David's article relating to Richard Warman of the Ontario Green Party. Quite frankly, when I first saw the article I thought it might be some sort of publicity stunt designed to drum up business (I studied history, political science, and public relations in university, which makes me always suspicious of what one writer has referred to as "pseudo events"); saying something is "banned" generates a lot of interest, but since my webpage is essentially collection of links to interesting stories and articles on the web, including conspiracy material. I included the headline of David's article and about a sentence or two in order to give my visitors an idea of what the article was about. Here is exactly what appeared on my page:

2001/11/15 ENEMY OF FREEDOM SEEKS TO STOP CIRCULATION OF CHILDREN OF THE MATRIX, By David Icke: "For many months, Richard Warman of the Ontario Green Party, has been trying to intimidate bookshops and suppliers in North America to stop selling Children of the Matrix. He is now trying to do the same in the United Kingdom"

You will note that nowhere do I use my own words or express an opinion one way or another (in fact, in order to get to the page in question it is necessary to scroll past my disclaimer which says that the views or ideas expressed in the articles below to not necessarily reflect those of Counter-Propaganda (the name of my website)), I merely provide a brief snippet in order to enable my visitors to determine whether or not they might be interested in the article. On Friday November 23, Shaw Cable, my internet provider in British Columbia, telephoned me and informed me that I was in violation of their user agreement, and that they had received a complaint from Richard Warman demanding I remove the "offending" content from my site, which they were now instructing me to do or face termination of service. This is a stunning violation of free speech; I was merely mentioning something that another person had said, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, and provided a link to the story.

At no point did Mr.Warman attempt to contact me directly; at no point did he express any interest in having a rebuttal posted, which I, being one those people who is extremely interested in free speech and open debate, would have happily provided; I would have provided a link to his rebuttal right under David's story. Behaving like some sort of sniveling weasel, he bypassed me completely and went straight to my ISP. A true friend of free speech and democracy would have written a rebuttal to David's allegations and addressed the issue with intelligence. That would have shown some courage. Obviously Mr.Warman lacks either the skill or the truth necessary to enable him to do so, otherwise he would behave as most academics and politicians do; namely, they ask for equal time to rebut claims; if somebody slanders you, you go after the person who did the slandering, not some third party who is merely mentioning what the alleged "slanderer" has said. Such behavior boggles the mind; perhaps Mr. Warman should consider joining the "Ontario Fascist Party."

I would have fought the issue but it would have meant immediate termination of my webpage, and I possess rather limited time and resources, so it was easier to simply modify the text and consider other alternatives (contacting you is one of those alternatives, since you have an immediate interest in the subject). What is remarkable is that I had absolutely nothing against Mr.Warman -- had never said a foul word about the man -- but had merely placed a clip from a news story from another site (your site) and have been attacked by for doing so. That he would choose to attack me for providing a link to a story written by someone else is utterly astounding and lends credit to David's assertion rather discrediting it.

This very fact proves what a complete moron Warman is; if somebody accuses you of being an enemy of free speech, the smart thing to do, supposing you want to discredit the assertion, is not to go out and start attacking third parties and attempting to silence their right to free speech. Such behavior can only validate your opponent's claims. While I had no real opinion on the matter at the time of posting David's article, I am now convinced that Mr.Warman is indeed an enemy of free speech. That he chose to bypass me completely and go directly to my ISP proves that he is also a coward.

Sincerely,
Richard Finnegan,

Counter-Propaganda: Alternative News and Commentary WebSite

On November 30, 2001, I received copies of this letter from IndyMedia in email. I forwarded one of these letters to a local Ottawa Green Party discussion forum to try to get more details on what Richard Finnegan was claiming. As if to confirm Mr. Finnegan's words, I later received a threatening sounding letter from Richard Warman on December 6. In this letter he claimed that what was forwarded was defamatory and that "those who repeat defamatory material to be equally responsible with those who originate it". He further went on with an unreasonable "request" of editing the archives for this list and adding content-filters to the forum.

Richard's threats to myself were not the most serious. I was informed that the Victoria Indymedia was sent a letter from Warman asking that the page indicating his activities should be removed. As the IndyMedia is a democratically organized site, it needed to publish his letter in their discussion group archives for the Victoria IndyMedia editorial group. I am including Richard Warman's letter here as well.

CONFIDENTIAL

Dear Victoria Indymedia:

I'm normally a big fan of the work that Indymedia does in "getting the word out" on alternative politics issues considering it's a milieu that I've been active in for over a decade.

That said, I'd like to raise concern about the ability of people to post 'anonymous' defamatory material on your website such as that contained regarding myself at the link below.

http://victoria.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=1497&group=webcast

I'm sure you can apprectiate that calling someone "an enemy of freedom", "moron", "sniveling weasel", "fascist", "coward", etc. is defamatory.

While I support the right to freedom of expression, this doesn't extend to gratuitous and defamatory personal attacks any more than it covers the proverbial yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre, or hate speech.

I would ask that you remove this article immediately in its entirety (ie. and not merely place it in another 'hidden' section of your website).

I appreciate that this would not be in accord with your editorial policy posted on your website, but I would suggest that you may want to look into the legal responsibilities you assume when you choose to become a 'publisher' as you do with an internet website. I heartily support a healthy and flourishing alternative media, that's why I think it's imperative for credibility that you make sure that you're operating using at least the basics of journalistic ethics and integrity.

I look forward to hearing from you regarding your decision, and encourage you if you have any questions to give me a call or email.

Best,

Richard Warman
t. (613) 233-2070
email: richardwarman@yahoo.ca

This letter caused the Victoria IndyMedia to remove the article in question. It appears that Richard Warman was not satisfied with this action. A letter was written to the victoria-editorial mailing list on Feb 1 which indicated that Warman has tried to contact the University of Victoria to try to have further IndyMedia articles and/or user comments censored.

To see ongoing discussions about this issue, please see the archives of the Vic-editorial mailing list at <http://lists.indymedia.org/mailman/public/vic-editorial/> starting from December 2001.

Is this really defamation, and what is the problem?

While I am not a lawyer, I believe it would be irresponsible for a citizen to simply react to legal threats from someone else simply because the person making the threats is a lawyer. There are considerably greater issues involved here than the feelings of an individual person, such as the protection of Free Speech. This is a time when many of our hard-earned civil liberties are under attack, and this is a time for all activists to stand together and fight for our right/duty to make public commentary on issues of public and political importance. I believe what Richard Warman is expecting people to believe about defamation law is extremely dangerous. This issue must be made visible, discussed, and potentially even politically opposed.

The problem is compounded by the fact that Richard Warman appears to be offering himself as a speaker at events discussing civil liberties, making this issue even more critical to be discussed in our local activist community. He was part of a Nov. 28 Panel Opposing War, Racism and Attack on Civil Liberties <http://www.flora.org/green/announce/91>, as well as a Feb 5 Public forum on The Future of Civil Liberties in Canada <http://www.flora.org/nowar/forum/295>.

When the claim of defamation was sent to me, I did my own quick online research and found a number of sites which I found interesting.

The Smith Lyons site contains an easy to understand summary:
In order for the online venturer to be found directly liable for the tort of defamation, each of the following elements must be proven:
  1. the offending materials must have been published (that is to say, communicated in some tangible fashion to at least one person other than the plaintiff);
  2. the materials must have expressly, or by reasonable implication, referred to the plaintiff; and
  3. the materials must have been false and, in the eyes of a reasonable person, discrediting to the plaintiff in their context.

In the materials authored by or referenced by Richard Finnegan, or republished by IndyMedia or myself, the first two conditions are obviously met. The materials are published on the Internet, available for anyone to see and find in a search engine, and clearly reference Richard Warman.

It is the last condition that becomes a point of debate. While some of the words used are less than flattering, they are words used to talk about events where all evidence available suggests they did happen. Richard Warman has never claimed that the events are not true, that he has not threatened these various website authors. He has been offered equal-opportunity to publicly refute these claims if he believes them to be false. Rather that refuting the claims, he seems intent on proving them to be true by adding additional people and institutions to the list who have received copies of his threats.


Addition:

In Oct 2002 I was forwarded the following URL http://www.cyberclass.net/warman.htm which includes:

Readers are invited to review the background details of how and why Richard Warman faced three indictable criminal charges in court at 161 Elgin St., Ottawa, Ontario, Canada for two appearances, October 18th, 2002 and November 18th, 2002.
http://www.cyberclass.net appears to be the homepage of Tom Kennedy. I remembered the name from the Ottawa LETS, and did a search on him since my memory was poor on details. I found this PEN newsletter article:

LETS Promotes Sustainable Local Economy

Tom Joseph Kennedy signs his message with the pen name Tommy Nousury. For years, he has promoted the Local Employment and Trading System (LETS), which provides interest- or usury-free banking.

As to my own involvement, Warman has dropped his threats to me. Due to the poor way that Frank DeJong (Leader of the Green Party of Ontario and on the council for the Green Party of Canada) handled this issue, and the lack of strong party opposition to his inappropriate actions and inaction, I have left the party. Both my provincial and federal Green Party memberships have lapsed.

I consider the protection of the rights and freedoms afforded by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms, and the extension of these rights into "Cyberspace" to be something I am not willing to compromise on.

The Green Party has no policy on critical ICT issues from copyright and patents, competition policy, ISP licensing or other forms of online censorship. Add this lack of policy in critical areas with the way the party handled this issue, and the Greens become a party that I do not wish to be associated with.