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Brian Burke, the law and how not to grovel

Charlie Gillis on how a ‘small rumour’ became big trouble


 

Chris Young/CP

Remember that lawsuit Brian Burke dropped on foolhardy commenters who helped spread the nasty rumour that he had an affair with a TV anchor and fathered her child? Okay.

Now, do you remember the doubly foolhardy blogger who admitted that he didn’t take down the offending material when asked, and didn’t see what “the big deal” was? Yeah, that guy. A journalism student, if you can feature it.

Well, here’s what happens when you start publishing rumours about people’s personal lives without first running “Canadian libel law” through Google:

I am new to the world of journalism and mistakes occur when people are new to something. Everyone is fallible, and I now understand that I made a mistake by posting a rumour online.

Hopefully, Brian Burke and Hazel Mae will read this and understand how I feel, and what my intentions were. I want to sincerely apologize to them for any personal or professional damages my actions may have caused them.

This part has “my dad hired a lawyer who told me to apologize, like, yesterday” written all over it. Grovel, scrape; scrape, grovel. And I’m thinking: good, Zack; be the babe in the woods. No malicious intent. Just a guy talking to a couple of friends on his blog. You’ll wiggle out of this and laugh about it someday.

Then, egad, I get to the part where he blames murky defamation law pertaining to the web. And dastardly journalists miscasting his quotes on the “big deal” thing. And how what he really meant was:

 ..that I didn’t understand why Mr. Burke was singling out 18 people for such a small rumour that wasn’t all that well-known prior to the lawsuit. I definitely understand the damages of a ruined reputation. (My class had Maher Arar come in this year and he explained how his reputation was damaged and never fully returned. It was a very scary, but enriching, story).

Quite apart from whether there’s a comparison to be drawn between Arar, who was renditioned in Syria; and Burke, who was renditioned to Anaheim, this kind of shading is a terrible idea. I won’t presume to school Zack on why. But I can report with confidence that “small rumour” made it to the ears of practically every sports journalist in the country, and quite a few outside it. NHL executives heard it. Guys on my beer-league hockey team—non-journalists—mentioned it in the dressing room. It travelled and travelled in circles that matter a lot to Burke and Hazel Mae. It was not well-publicized because mainstream media wouldn’t publish it until they could get some kind of corroboration or proof; if they saw it on their websites, they yanked it, post-haste.

So in Burke’s world, it was certainly well-known, thanks to that fission-like reaction only the web can produce. We’re all publishers now and, who’d a thunk it, the courts have figured that out.

That’s the part that isn’t murky.


 

Brian Burke, the law and how not to grovel

  1. The art of modern apologies (yes, I’m old) is to grovel, then explain again how you don’t really see how it’s a big deal. Young are learning that from the current generation of politicians who “take full responsibility”, then continue as before.

  2. maybe the Burkes will have some peace now.

  3. Nothing like calling out a journalism student by twisting the format of his apology to fit a pleasing narrative. Apologies for the snark if you normally read stories from footer to header though.

  4. I think Burke is a malicious piece of shit, sadly. I have applauded the man in the past, but really, he is now seeking to use the power of the state to enforce silence on the authors of the comments in question. These authors are the real victims here. Their freedom of speech is being abridged. The whole point of an anonymous internet is to be able to put things out there without it being traceable to you – to the extent that Brian Burke has imperilled this, to the extent that people now feel less free to bullshit on their message boards and in comment sections than they would to bullshit in their living rooms, to the extent that ANYONE, ANYWHERE ever has to “watch what they say,” he is a fascist, whether he sees himself this way or not.

    Old people just don’t understand the internet. Heather Mallick’s recent column on this issue is further evidence of that. She compares repeating these rumours from the privacy of one’s own home computer to bullying and cyberstalking. To anybody under the age of 35 this is immediately obvious as bullshit; to older people who have never participated in an exclusively online social environment, posting on a message board is publication. To most people of my generation, it’s very much private conversation that happens to be viewable to anybody who knows where to look.

    It’s never even been established that spreading this rumour is defamatory in any way. If Burke actually fathered Hazel Mae’s child, in my opinion that is awesome. But even if you view this story as defamatory, to paraphrase another commentator on this issue, it takes a special kind of small person to sue some kid online for joking about you sleeping around.

    Libel laws are bullshit in so many ways – the manifestation of the domination of our political and legal systems by the elites, the ones who are actually much more likely to have something to lose from being libelled. It’s not surprising to see the journalists and the representatives of these elites – the people who trade on their reputation – rushing to defend the right of the state to determine truth and punish liars. But they’re no friend of the common man. “We’re all publishers now,” which means we all have responsibilities to watch what we say, right? And so I say to all that Brian Burke, Chris Young AND Heather Mallick have ALL fathered separate children by Hazel Mae. I can be found at 1605 Summit Drive #58 Kamloops BC, if you want to sue me.

    • Their freedom of speech has been in no way abridged. They were free to say what they wanted and now they have their opportunity to show the truth that they based their comments on.
      While I agree libel is a rich person’s tool, one thing I do respect about the intent of such a law is that you can easily get out of any and all liability by showing what you wrote was true. If it wasn’t true and you said it anyway, then the consequences are yours to suck up. That’s the price you pay for being a liar.
      Don’t lie then there is no problem, what a novel concept.

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