A quiet legal victory occurred here in June 2009. Dr. Ferrel CHRISTENSEN accepted a settlement in a defamation lawsuit against the National Post and Canwest Global Communications for untrue allegations made against him in an article entitled “Scandal taints fathers' rights group” published April 17, 2001. Dr. CHRISTENSEN received a full written retraction, the right to publicise all documents that had been revealed during the course of the case, as well as an amount of money which far exceeded his legal expenses of $100,000 (he is unable to reveal the exact financial terms/details of this settlement). Although not identified ECMAS is also exonerated by the facts exposed in these documents. All case files are available at: www.fightforhonestjournalism.ca.
Defamation suits prove Mark TWAIN's maxim that “a lie can go around the world while truth is still lacing up her boots” - and such sensationalism was present in this smaller drama. The outrageously tawdry associations made in the National Post article attempted to paint the leadership of ECMAS as unacceptably tolerant (indeed, almost welcoming) of sexual predators and pedophiles. Despite being absolutely UNTRUE, it played into longstanding smears of men's rights and equal-parenting groups.
Much of the smear was based on mis-characterizations of an obscure book Dr. CHRISTENSEN published in 1999 entitled “Pornography: The Other Side”. By reasonable standards, it is a fairly dry, tame, academic exploration of the history of social mores and attitudes towards sexuality. I would attest that I could not find anything that endorses pedophilia and that it fulfills none of the flimsy allegations made by Donna LAFRAMBOISE in her National Post article. It became clear through her testimony that despite claiming to have read this book, she had in fact depended heavily upon mis-characterizations from the main protagonist and had only actually read selected passages.
Another “fact” in the offending article presented an active volunteer, Paul ADAMS, in a very poor light based on his disbarment for his previous sexual misconduct involving a young client (he was saved by a pre-arranged police sting operation before any act occurred). Undoubtedly, Mr. ADAMS paid in full for the consequences of his stunningly poor judgment (which occurred after his own divorce) by being disbarred and detained. He accepted this punishment. After that, the significant time and expertise Mr. ADAMS generously volunteered in ECMAS meetings free of charge was not recognized as valued community rehabilitation but unfairly portrayed as devious exploitation. After this LAFRAMBOISE article he dropped out of regular participation in ECMAS activities.
It was shocking to learn of the methods employed by the supposed journalist. She displayed a complete disregard for engaging in a fair, accurate or balanced reporting of events, and indeed was an active participant in concocting the smear through unconscionable pressure tactics, misrepresentations, untrue characterizations, lack of fact-checking or objective evaluation. Furthermore, The National Post failed to exert any oversight whatsoever over the reporter's actions, even after being repeatedly notified of severe problems with the reporter's story and process. The lack of dialogue with any editor gave way to threats of legal actions which were also blithely ignored. It should come as no surprise that even today, The National Post has not a clearly defined Ethics Policy1 for reporters to follow.
This victory stands as a complete exoneration of Ferrel CHRISTENSEN and by implication ECMAS. Before Ferrel retired from his position as Professor at the University of Alberta Philosophy Department, he held a special expertise in the Philosophy of Science. He has been for 25+ years a major force and proponent of true gender equality and Men's Rights by helping to found and support groups in Edmonton and throughout Alberta like MERGE (Movement for the Establishment of Real Gender Equality2) and ECMAS (Equitable Child Maintenance & Access Society3).
The legal battle has been a long, hard fought fight – one that many others may have given up on when pressed so hard financially and by such a formidable bully as The National Post/Canwest. Most telling however has been Canwest's own failure to publicize its own retraction and draw some attention to their own journalist's weaknesses and obvious operational shortcomings. It remains to be seen if The National Post/Canwest can take the first step in adopting appropriate ethics practices consistent with it's major role in the Canadian media spectrum4.
1)This story investigated the ethical implications of investigative journalists misrepresenting themselves in order to conduct undercover investigative news pieces. In the process they polled major newspapers across Canada only to find that none had a publicly available, written ethics policy to help guide journalists in these activities. See “Lying to get the truth” by Shannon FAY. University of King’s College NS - Department of Journalism, Review, Vol. XIII, Issue 5, April 2009. www.kjr.ca
2)MERGE hyperlink – http://www.ualberta.ca/~fchriste/
3)ECMAS hyperlink – http://www.ecmas.org/
4) A case study in Journalistic Ethics at the Calgary HERALD 1999 by Bob BERGEN - www.chumirethicsfoundation.ca/files/pdf/section4.pdf
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Chris a divorced father involved in Family Law issues. He helped start a local network for PAAO in Alberta and has been an active member of ECMAS (Equitable Child Maintenance & Access Society) since 2005. In June 2009 he joined the ECMAS Board of Directors.
All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer or organizations he is involved with.