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John Mahoney's Free-fire Zone
John Mahoney
John Mahoney
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is editor of the Log Cabin Chronicles.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 03.28.02
Fool's Hollow, Quebec

JOHN MAHONEY

Chill winds from lawyers blow
or
I receive a "friendly" registered letter from the heavy-duty law firm representing the Townshippers Association

The non-profit Townshippers Association (TA), a community organization of volunteers, has demanded that the Log Cabin Chronicles "delete" and "rectify" a posting in my on-line diary (the web log Johnny Musn't Grumble) tagged: Townshippers website gets the boot.

The last paragraph of the letter from the prestigious law firm of Heenan Blaikie, where the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau, former Prime Minister of Canada, used to hang his hat, contains the threat of litigation and payment of damages.

The lawyers say that TA contends that the LCC was given "false information" about the webmagazine contract by Maurice Singfield of the Sunnymead Village organization.

On March 18 Singfield notifed TA that Sunnymead would not host their webpages after March 31. He said his organization felt that a conflict of interest had occurred because Michael van Lierop of Northern Crown Wecommunications had been on the TA Board of Directors while submitting a bid on the web project. TA says van Lierop "reluctantly resigned" from the board on January 11, prior to submitting his bid.

Basically, the lawyers say that if I don't do a Soviet -- delete all traces of the story and pretend for history it never existed, and "rectify" the information about the contract award -- then the Townshippers Association (TA) reserves the right to come down on the LCC like ugly on ape.

Not their actual words, of course -- the warning is in lawyerspeak.

The message is clear: Cool it, or else...

These are the first and last paragraphs of the lawyer's letter I received, which TA President Peter Quilliams characterized Tuesday night during a telephone conversation as "friendly" and "gentle."

We have received instructions from the Townshippers Association to require you to remove your article "Townshippers website gets the boot" from the website of the Log Cabin Chronicle (sic) and rectify the facts that concerns (sic) the contract awarded to Northern Crown Webcommunications for the creation of the Heritage Webmagazine.

and,

If the article "Townshippers website gets the boot" is not removed immediately and the false information regarding this matter not rectified, the Townshippers Association reserves all its recourses to proceed with all necessary legal procedures, without prior notice, ordering Log Cabin Chronicles to remove the article from its website and rectify all the false allegations contained in it, and claiming all damages incurred by the Townshippers Association related to this matter.

Strangely, I do not perceive the above as either friendly or gentle.

(And, to keep the record technically straight, the posting wasn't an "article" but an on-line diary -- a web log or blog -- entry, but devoid of personal comment.)

Quilliams sent me a long letter on March 25, outlining the association's position and their version of the events that led to this potentially ugly situation. I gladly posted it, as I would any letter to the editor, for I truly believe in free speech and openess. I encourage you to read what he has to say.

I informed him by e-mail on Monday that I had posted his letter, and on Tuesday asked him via e-mail and by telephone if he would confirm by e-mail that the letter was posted exactly as he had written it, and confirm that it met the TA's request for "rectification."

Quilliams replied that he hadn't received the e-mail messages, hadn't read the letter in the LCC, but said that publication would rectify the information.

Singfield says that he, too, has received a threatening letter from TA's law firm. As of Thursday afternoon the Stanstead Journal, which has published two stories on the issue and has offered the same information as the LCC, had not received a letter from the TA's lawyers.

  • Singfield says he will not at this time enter into "any further public discussion of the issue."

  • He has confirmed that Sunnymead will transfer TA's webpages off its server.

  • He says that "Sunnymead now considers the matter closed."
So, where does that leave the Log Cabin Chronicles?

The Townshippers Association has demanded that I delete Singfield's allegedly false facts and post their allegedly true facts, or possibly face legal and financial consequences.

Well, I've willingly posted their extensive information on the LCC's high-visibility Letters to the Editor section.

And I feel that no one can fault the volunteers of Townshippers for not working diligently for the good of the people of the region.

Certainly, I have supported TA in the past at Townshippers Day, posting an extensive photo essay; by urging their office staff to use the free Public Announcement section in both the Log Cabin Chronicles and the Eastern Townshipper; and by prominently featuring photographs and text on both websites when they launched their Heritage website (designed by Eric Wabant of Sunnymead).

But, having said that, I also strongly believe that people and organizations, including all levels of government, that spend public money must be -- like Caesar's wife -- above suspicion.

In essence, they must operate in a fish bowl, open to continuing public scrutiny to preclude even a perception of favoritism, unfairness, or personal interest.

Quilliams, quoted in the Stanstead Journal on March 28, appears to agree: "Asked about the perception that TA might be trying to stifle comment, Quilliams said, 'There's more of a perception problem than a factual problem in what was printed last week.' "

I wish the Townshippers Association all the best in their work to create a new webmagazine for Townshippers. The more information disseminated about this lovely place we call home, the better it will be for all of us.

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