Fredericton chief welcomes review of blogger case
Police Chief Barry MacKnight will decide who reviews Charles LeBlanc file
Fredericton Police Chief Barry MacKnight says he welcomes a full review by an independent third party on how the force handled the case of controversial blogger Charles LeBlanc.
"We appreciate that in the minds of some, our reputation has taken a hit. That’s too important not to address, and an independent review is the best way to do that," MacKnight said in a statement.
LeBlanc, who writes a blog on politics and social justice issues, was facing criminal libel charges, under section 301 of the Criminal Code.
He was accused of damaging the reputation of a city police officer in a blog posts last summer.
But last Friday, the office of the attorney general issued a statement, saying the charges against LeBlanc would not be proceeding because that section has been deemed unconstitutional in other jurisdictions.
In his statement, MacKnight said it would have been inappropriate for him to comment while the investigation was underway, but now he is able to speak freely.
"The reason I welcome the review is because of questions raised by many reasonable citizens who have wondered about the motivations behind the investigation of Charles LeBlanc," he said.
"I appreciate the optics on this were not good, but we don’t have the luxury of allowing optics to dictate decisions. Our job is to investigate allegations of criminal conduct.
"This said, there is nothing more important to a police department than the public having confidence in its integrity as that relates directly to our reputation."
MacKnight will be working over the next few days to determine who will do the review and to establish the terms of reference.
The results of the review will be made public, although the force will "have to be cautious about privacy issues," he said.
"If it shows that we should have, or could have, handled this investigation differently, we will learn from that and make any necessary changes," MacKnight said.
On Friday, Mayor Brad Woodside told CBC News he asked McKnight for a third-party review to ensure that policies and procedures were "proper."
Wants computer back
LeBlanc isn't saying much about the matter. He says it's on the advice of his lawyer.
"I didn't really jump with great joy. I'm being very, very cautious," LeBlanc said.
"You don't jump the gun. You take a deep breath, you watch the system work, and then we take it from there."
Asked how he feels the system worked in his case, he replied: "I'll have more to say when this is over."
Leblanc did say he has received a lot of support throughout the matter.
"The support from the very poor, to the very rich, to the very powerful, has been very good," he said. "I met strangers, stepping forward. You know who your friends are when you're down."
Meanwhile, LeBlanc says he's still waiting to get back his computer equipment, which was seized in January.
He has been using borrowed equipment ever since, he said.
"Everything that made my blog or my pictures go online was eliminated," said LeBlanc, who routinely criticizes politicians, the police and government officials on his blog.
As far as he knows, his equipment is at the police station, he said. But he's heard "absolutely nothing" about getting it back.
LeBlanc was arrested and released in January, while officers searched his apartment and seized his computer equipment. Eight officers were involved in the raid, he has said.
Last month, six University of New Brunswick professors sent a letter to the attorney general, saying they thought the case would not result in a conviction and was not in the public interest.
At least four jurisdictions have found section 301 to be unconstitutional — Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador.
In February, a national civil liberties group wrote to the Fredericton police chief, questioning the treatment of LeBlanc.