Fredericton police questioned about libel claim

A national group has written a letter to Fredericton's police chief about the search, seizure and arrest of a local blogger.

Charles LeBlanc faces charges for comments he posted about a city police officer

A national civil liberties group has written a letter to Fredericton's police chief, questioning the treatment of a local blogger who has been threatened with libel charges.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is designed to protect the freedoms of Canadians and has intervened in court cases and organized rallies.

On Wednesday, the association sent a letter to Fredericton police Chief Barry MacKnight on the arrest of blogger Charles LeBlanc.

Two weeks ago, police raided Leblanc’s apartment and took his computer, arrested and questioned him.

Charles LeBlanc appeared in front of the Fredericton courthouse in September (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

On his release, they issued him a notice to appear, which stated he would be charged with criminal libel under Section 301 of the Criminal Code for comments he posted last summer about a city police officer.

In its letter, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association points out that "Section 301 has been found to be unconstitutional by at least three courts in other jurisdictions."

Those jurisdictions include Ontario, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The letter goes on to say that using the police to arrest someone for allegedly defaming one of their own, can make others wary of speaking out against them.

Scaring the public

"As long as that provision is on the books, and as long as police use it as a tool, it means people may be scared to say things because they may be worried that the police will march into their home and search their stuff … because they’ve said something that someone doesn’t like, or finds offensive or finds defamatory," said Cara Zwibel, director of fundamental freedoms for the association.

Jula Hughes, a lawyer and criminal law professor at the University of New Brunswick, said criminal libel is used so infrequently she had to check her Criminal Code when she heard about the charge and said that libel is generally a civil court matter.

"I thought surely no Crown would approve a charge under this section. Particularly involving police, because it would seem that there's such a public interest in robust public debate about police practices, that even if a citizen  arguably went too far in the criticism, you still wouldn't want to shut it down because of the negative effects that would have on the expression of others."

LeBlanc may never be formally charged because the police can only lay charges with the approval of a Crown prosecutor, according to Hughes.

The Department of Justice said the Crown prosecutors' office hasn't yet received any information from police.

The police chief declined an interview with CBC News.