A Fredericton city councillor says the arrest of a controversial blogger who regularly criticizes the police force and other institutions is an attack on civil liberties. And Jordan Graham believes the case should be investigated by an external police force.
Charles LeBlanc was arrested last week and is facing criminal libel charges for comments he posted last summer about a city police officer.
Coun. Graham told CBC News it's impossible to separate the charges from LeBlanc's history as a thorn in the side of the police.
"I never said that it was an intentional attack on civil liberties, but civil liberties, I do believe, are being attacked here — whether it's a concerted effort, or it's an attempt to just scratch an itch," Graham said on Tuesday.
The city councillor had previously raised concerns over the tactics of the Fredericton police on a post on his own blog on Monday.
"Some people are sick and tired of Charles LeBlanc and they are happy to see something come down on him," Graham wrote.
"And other people are concerned about the statement of the police force going after somebody who has clearly been on their hit list for quite some time now."
On Tuesday, Graham told CBC LeBlanc's "colourful commentary" promotes "stimulating discourse" and he doesn't think even potentially libelous insults should be a crime.
"I think that if you're going to be going after members of the media..or people that promote public discussion through criticism with this law, it creates concerns about how honest of a dialogue we can have with people and with government and I think that's a fundamental liberty we all have to have," he said.
'I'm not questioning the legitimacy of this officer potentially being a victim, but the criminal system isn't the avenue to challenge this. We should be taking people to task civilly.'—Coun. Jordan Graham
"The real problem isn't about whether or not we like what Charles is saying. That to me is not the issue here, it's whether or not he should be able to say it and how we deal with that as a society."
Graham said the officer in question may have been wronged, but there are better ways to deal with the matter.
"I have a huge problem with this being a criminal issue because I don't find it a criminal issue," he said.
"You can have victims outside of crimes… so I'm not questioning the legitimacy of this officer potentially being a victim, but the criminal system isn't the avenue to challenge this. We should be taking people to task civilly."
Graham said he has expressed his concerns to Fredericton Police Chief Barry MacKnight and suggested another force be brought in to handle the case "just simply on the basis of making it palatable for the public.
"I think that would appease a lot of people," he said. "I definitely think that there's value in considering it on the perception basis, absolutely."
Has not 'intervened'
Despite his public comments on the issue, Graham insists he hasn't "intervened".
"I'm certainly not coming to Charles' side in any official capacity aside from the fact that I'm concerned that defamatory libel is the route being pursued here," he said.
"I would say I've contributed to the discussion that's going on out there, but there's no requirement for anybody to take any action on the basis of what I've said.
"I've simply brought an element to the forefront that I think should be considered by the public going forward on this issue."
It has been reported that eight officers exercised a search warrant at LeBlanc's home and seized his computer equipment.
Chief MacKnight said he's been involved in search and seizure operations that have included as many as 20 people.
MacKnight won't comment on specific cases, but he said the police force sends investigators, security people and individuals with technical expertise on these types of operations.
"Even in a case where the risk is relatively low, you're probably looking at a couple of people to maintain security, they have people that come to do the search if there are people with technical expertise," he said.
LeBlanc was arrested for allegedly libeling a Fredericton Police officer.
The blogger signed a promise to appear in court on April 20.
MacKnight said like any other investigation, the LeBlanc case will follow usual procedures and the results will be presented to the Crown in due time.
LeBlanc has been garnering support from anonymous people and public figures since his equipment was seized last week.
Some people who are helping LeBlanc do not want to be identified. LeBlanc has also received anonymous donations to help him continue his blogging efforts.
LeBlanc writes a blog on politics and social justice issues. He regularly criticizes political figures, police officers and senior bureaucrats in his posts.
The blogger has had several run-ins with the law in recent years.
LeBlanc pleaded guilty on Jan. 16 to disturbing the peace in connection with a bullhorn protest last summer outside the city police station.
He had been protesting a ticket he received for riding his bike on the sidewalk in Fredericton.
LeBlanc is scheduled to be back in court next month to contest two infractions of the city's bicycle bylaws.
LeBlanc has been banned from the grounds of the legislature, including the lawn in front of the building, since 2006. Legislature officials say the ban was to ensure employees could work in a secure environment free of harassment.
He was also arrested during a 2006 protest at a business conference in Saint John.
LeBlanc was later acquitted of an obstruction charged related to his arrest at the Atlantica conference.