New Brunswick

Brunswick News agrees not to publish more articles on leaked carbon tax document

The province's biggest newspaper company has agreed to not publish any more stories based on a confidential, leaked cabinet document it obtained about the Higgs government's industrial carbon tax.

Binding consent order filed in Court of Queen's Bench on Thursday

Brunswick News owns about a dozen newspapers in the province, including the Telegraph-Journal and the Times & Transcript. (Gabrielle Fahmy)

The province's biggest newspaper company has agreed to not publish any more stories based on a confidential, leaked cabinet document it obtained about the Higgs government's industrial carbon tax.

Brunswick News agreed to the binding consent order, which says the company "is permanently enjoined from publishing or distributing any information" in the document, unless it's obtained legally elsewhere or is already public.

The company also agreed to "make all reasonable efforts to cause to be destroyed and/or deleted" all print or electronic copies of the leaked document.

The consent order was filed in Court of Queen's Bench on Thursday morning. It is signed by lawyers for the province and the newspaper company.

Brunswick News published an initial story with details of the document on June 12, one day before Environment Minister Jeff Carr announced the carbon price at a news conference.

The story included financial details of the impact on NB Power that were not part of the public release. According to the province, a newspaper reporter said Brunswick News planned to run more stories about the document.

The government responded by going to court Friday and persuading Court of Queen's Bench Justice Judy Clendening to issue an interim injunction blocking publication of any more stories.

'Proprietary commercial information'

Carr said in an affidavit the document contains "proprietary commercial information of many different private-sector companies operating within the Province."

The industrial carbon tax, if accepted by Ottawa, would apply to the Irving Oil refinery and several large forestry mills in the province, including some owned by J.D. Irving Ltd.

J.D. Irving's co-CEO, Jim Irving, is also listed as the president of Brunswick News.

Environment Minister Jeff Carr said in an affidavit that the clerk of the executive council told him that the Fredericton city police are investigating what he calls 'the theft' of the document. (CBC)

A hearing about a permanent injunction had been scheduled for Monday afternoon but the two sides reached a deal before that took place.

The order says the newspapers can only publish more information from the cabinet document that is "legally obtained" from a source other than the document "or otherwise in the public domain."

Brunswick News editor-in-chief Wendy Metcalfe did not respond to a request for a comment Thursday.

"We have no comment to make at this time, as the consent order speaks for itself," said Robert Duguay, a spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney-General.

Jim Irving, co-chief executive officer of J.D. Irving Ltd., is also the president of Brunswick News. (CBC)

The dollar figures published last week, showing the carbon price impact on NB Power and its ratepayers, were from a June 5 addendum to the memorandum to executive council.

MECs, as they're known within government, are used to brief cabinet ministers on the decisions they make collectively. They are treated as confidential.

The province argued the document was stolen and said Fredericton city police are investigating the theft. Its court application said photos of the documents were taken by someone on an iPhone and sent to the newspaper.

In his affidavit, Carr said publishing more stories about the document would "constitute intentional interference in business relations between [the province] and the commercial entities referred to in the said privileged/stolen documents."

An online version of a story based on the leaked cabinet document was published on June 12. (Submitted)

The government filings last Friday cited the provincial right to information act. The legislation sets out how the province releases documents to the public. It does not apply to whether leaked documents can be reported by the media.

Friday's interim injunction was issued just hours before Brunswick News's flagship newspaper, the Telegraph-Journal, won the Michener Award, the top Canadian prize for public-service journalism.

At the award ceremony Friday night, Metcalfe said that without journalism, "secrecy would be rampant. Truth, trust, transparency would be scant."

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