A pro-life witness who complained that she was intimidated by a CBC producer has been vindicated by a House of Commons Committee who found the producer to be “over-zealous.” The Standing Committee on House Management investigated the complaint following a question of privilege raised in the House of Commons by pro-life MP Don Boudria.
The case involves the testimony of Cheryl Eckstein Sr. of the Compassionate Healthcare Network before the Justice subcommittee studying the recodification of the Criminal Code, and a subsequent telephone call to Mrs. Eckstein initiated by Kelly Crichton, executive producer of the CBC current affairs programme the fifth estate.
During her testimony before the subcommittee which was studying the Criminal Code provisions dealing with euthanasia and assisted suicide, Ms Eckstein used a three minute video clip of a film entitled, “ I Accuse.” A Nazi propaganda film, “I Accuse” was designed to sway public opinion in favour of euthanasia.
The video clip of a fifth estate documentary on euthanasia propaganda called “Selling Murder,” based on a British production of the same name by Domino Films. Mrs. Eckstein obtained her videotape from the Archdiocese of Vancouver, part of an educational package entitled “It’s a Matter of Life and Death.” She was assured in writing by the Archdiocese that they had permission from Domino Films to use the video clip.
In a telephone conversation several days after the presentation to the subcommittee, Ms Crichton told Mrs. Eckstein that she did not have authority to use the film, that she was using CBC material out of context, that she was not to use it again, and that the whole matter was in the hand of CBC lawyers. Mrs. Eckstein later characterized Ms Crichton’s as “verbal battering.” Feeling intimidated and threatened, she called Mr. Boudria and related the conversation to him.
Mr. Boudria’s question of privilege the next day was based on the principle that witnesses testifying before Parliamentary committees enjoy the same privileges as MPs. One of these privileges is freedom of speech, and protection of witnesses, is a fundamental aspect of this privilege. One Parliamentary authority, Erskine Maystates, “Any conduct calculated to deter prospective witnesses from giving evidence before either House or a committee is a contempt [of Parliament]… On the same principle, molestation of or threats against those who have previously given evidence before either House of a committee will be treated by the House as a contempt.”
In its investigation of the matter, the Standing Committee on House Management is determined that while the Archdiocese of Vancouver and the CBC may have a copyright problem to resolve, Ms Crichton was “over-zealous” in her pursuit of the matter with Ms Eckstein. The committee stopped short of finding Ms Crichton in contempt of Parliament.
In its report, the House Management Committee reminded the organizations such as the CBC Copyright Act does not apply to parliamentary proceedings, and that a Member or witness may quote a work without first obtaining the permission of the holder of the copyright.
The Committee acknowledged the concerns of the CBC regarding the journalistic integrity of its work, but stressed that, “it is important that the rights of Parliament be acknowledged, and that witnesses not be ‘chilled’ by the prospect of legal action over their use of copyrighted materials.”
In an interesting side note to the case, Ms Crichton revealed in her testimony before the House Management Committee that the CBC pursued the matter with Eckstein as the result of a complaint from John Hofsess, executive director of the Right to Die Society. Mr. Hofsess testified before the Justice subcommittee on the same day as Mrs. Eckstein.