May 13, 2015

#FHRITP and Canadian law: Yes, yelling obscenities is a crime that could cost you your job

Marissa SemkiwArchive

Lawyer Ed Prutschi talked to me about the legal ramifications surrounding yelling obscenities like "FHRITP" in public.

A Hydro One employee has been fired for yelling a crude "joke" at a female TV reporter outside a Toronto soccer stadium.

Were they within their legal rights to do so?

And could police really lay charges for a similar stunt, as some police services are warning the public?

Get a concise lesson in Canadian law that might surprise you.

What do you think about this situation? Tell us in the comments!


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commented 2015-05-24 05:40:49 -0400
@ Atoken Conservative: I’m confused. Which is it? Property of the media or public property? I would agree that once filmed, unreleased news footage (raw or edited) is property of the particular media company or individual that recorded it. While they may claim property ownership of such news footage recorded in a public place, this doesn’t translate into ownership of the news itself, nor does it convey property rights in the public space in which the news occurred. Journalism isn’t a free pass that allows the broadcast media to infringe upon an individual’s constitutionally-enshrined freedom of expression.
And FYI, in Canada, there is no blanket constitutional immunity for journalistic sources. It simply doesn’t exist, and the onus is on the particular journalist/media outlet seeking such protection to prove on a balance of probabilities that the public interest in shielding a source outweighs other societal considerations, on a case-by-case basis. I’m surprised that you, as a former journalist, don’t know this.
Further, the few FHRITP idiots who had their employment terminated and/or are facing possible criminal charges are not blaming the media for these losses. The issue here is whether the media is/is not entitled to go after those same individuals — the very subjects of this news story — for allegedly infringing on its so-called “property” rights therein. It has nothing to do with journalistic integrity or ethics, and everything to do with the mainstream media’s blatant hypocrisy and ever-growing, over-bloated sense of entitlement.
As a former reporter yourself, I’m astonished by the liberties you’ve taken with the facts of this story and with the words of other commenters. Your comment to Bill Elder was most definitely unfair. You distorted his actual words to imply something he never expressed or even insinuated. In the field of journalism, that’s a cardinal sin. If you count yourself among those in the media who aren’t “ethically compromised”, how do you justify “pounding the shit” out of a random asshole shouting a sexist obscenity? I would certainly call the kind of violent, physical response to a few offensive words such as you describe, being at least somewhat “ethically compromised”. More accurately, it’s the typical reaction of a deranged individual who is at least — if not more — infantile than the FHRITP yobs that ostensibly caused you to lose your mind. You do realize that you pre-blamed the antics of some young, attention-seeking, FHRITP dicks for hypothetically causing you to go insane and lose not only your self-control, but potentially also your employment and even your very freedom, based on a few offensive, blatantly ignorant words being loudly expressed by a total stranger in a public place, don’t you? You do know that news journalists are required to suppress their personal views in the course of preparing and delivering a truly objective report of the facts, don’t you? It doesn’t matter what you think so long as you relate a true account.
Some 85-odd years ago, the major daily Canadian newspaper at which I spent 10 years working on the night news desk won a special Pulitzer in 1938 for its commitment to freedom of the press, by successfully fighting a provincial law requiring media outlets to print government rebuttals to stories that it deemed inaccurate. Just a few years ago, however, publications like Maclean’s and The Western Standard get hauled before the human rights inquisition because they published some controversial stories relating to Islam and refused the demands of Muslim activists to publish their unedited rebuttal as front page news. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in uncompensated legal fees later, the complaints were dismissed, as detailed in the cowardly, nonsensical written decisions issued by the kangaroo courts. Today, the Premier of Ontario effectively wields a veto power over its provincial broadcaster, TVO, and is capable of unilaterally cancelling nearly-completed production contracts like the Wild Pines documentary and shifting the blame for the public reaction and economic fallout to the producer/director, all at the taxpayers’ expense.
This, not the FHRITP jackoffs, is a real story, and yet the media isn’t paying it any attention. Just close your eyes for a moment, and imagine if instead of Wynne and the Ontario Liberals muzzling a provincial broadcaster, it was the Harper conservatives trying to control the editorial policies of the CBC.
Moving along to wrap this up, female Sun News reporters (many of which are now reporters with have already been compared to whores — by the same mainstream media now seething with righteous, feminist indignation due to the inane acts of a bunch of random ignoramuses (ignorami?) shouting FHRITP as they run past the news camera. The very day Sun Media first came on the air, its female reporters and news anchors were slammed for daring to “bare arms”. They were demeaned and vilified by their own colleagues in the mainstream media and condemned as whores and sluts for simply wearing sleeveless shirts while they delivered the news. Shockingly, most of their most vociferous critics were other female journalists, who judged them as wanton, unprofessional and incredible, solely based on their attire.
In the very height of irony, I note that many of these same female journalists of the mainstream media now routinely defend wearing the Islamic niqab as some sort of fundamental female/religious right, and label anyone who disagrees with them as being anti-feminist, even accusing dissenting women of somehow being traitors to their own gender and in league with male misogyny.
Sadly, I think the days of Canadian news media being deserving of special recognition by the Pulitzer committee are long gone. Back then, journalists still took their public role as a protective bulwark for individual rights and freedoms seriously. Journalists were journalists, not merely “content producers”, and the news was still regarded as an invaluable public resource, instead of as a privately-owned commodity.
Everyone these days wants a mouthpiece with which they can express themselves (just look at me), from the FHRITP’ers to the reporters covering the story. But journalists must resist the temptation to use their position as a platform for their own views when reporting the news. If they don’t, I’m afraid it’s that much easier for other interests to creep in, public or private, eventually leading to the complete erosion of journalistic ethics, integrity and independence.
On a final note, I don’t deny that if I were in the position of one of the female reporters whose broadcast was interrupted by one of these jerks, I would have some sort of verbal response. But short of being physically assaulted, I would not resort to violence of any kind, up to and including “pounding the shit” out of someone.
commented 2015-05-16 12:52:33 -0400
I can’t see how a code of conduct can apply 24 hours per day and 7 days per week when the employment CONTRACT applies to only hours worked. Th employee is not being paid to live under the corporate code of conduct 24×7.
commented 2015-05-15 17:03:34 -0400
Atoken – hear, hear!!
commented 2015-05-14 15:18:39 -0400
The “Don’t be that guy” message is probably the most powerful action against someone that degrades into a loudmouth moron after having a few beers.. Every ‘on the street newscaster’ has encountered this type of drunken moron, but you’re probably not going to see this happen again for quite a while..
commented 2015-05-14 13:41:53 -0400
I do not think this is an issue of free speech at all. There is no viewpoint or opinions being silenced here. I think this is more akin to voyeurism, where some male tries to sexually objectify a woman at her most vulnerable moment, and without consent, just for his own lewd self-gratification. There can be no serious arguements supporting this form of sexual harassment. It’s just another wave eroding what used to be acceptable standards of public decency.
commented 2015-05-14 13:26:04 -0400
A couple of you have opined that the “property of the station, network, or reporter” argument isn’t worth much. Then who’s property is it? It doesn’t become public until it’s broadcasted, unreleased footage is the property of the media source. That’s been clearly established for a long time. It’s why reporters need to be subpoenaed in order to force them to give that type of thing up, including notes and in some cases the identity of a source. The clips we see either get released by the media source inadvertently, or by someone working at that particular station posting it to youtube for the hell of it. But if it is still in the hands of the media source, it’s their property. Things are a little bit fuzzier regarding the rights of individuals who may have been accidently filmed against their specific wish, private property or national security issues. None of that applies here. The whole concept I’m talking about here also doesn’t apply to this particular case. The video’s out there, whether it was authorized or not, so it’s for all intents and purposes public property. And none of the participants would be able to claim that they were being recorded without their knowledge or permission. I don’t see how anyone who suffers some kind of loss because of this can go after the media source in any way for it.
commented 2015-05-14 13:04:40 -0400
@ Bill Elder: not a fair comment. It’s not a prank aimed at the “ethically compromised media” as you say, it’s aimed at all video media. It’s kinda amazing that it hasn’t happened to one of the girls reporting for theRebel. As a former reporter I gotta say that if some bozo tried something like that with me I’d lose my mind, followed shortly by my freedom and my job as I’m sure the camera would be recording me pounding the shit out of the idiot who did it. We’re not all ethically compromised, Bill. Not too crazy about being compared to whores, either. You realize what you just called Marissa, don’t you?
commented 2015-05-14 00:56:31 -0400
Are we going to fine people, imprison them, tar and feather them, drag them through the streets… for being stupid? Do we so desperately need cookie cutter citizens that we have to cleanse people of their own opinion if they don’t fit the popular opinion of the day? Disallow free speech, open discussion, stupidity and ignorance, in the name of oh-so-abused women, oh-so-discriminated-aboriginals, oh-so-insulted-hijab-wearing-muslims, so that no one, NO ONE, expresses a word outside the common societal track. What of free speech? And who the f__k are you Lynda, and feminists-with-nothing-better-to-do-than to judge the likes of this despicable excuse of a man? I heard what he said, and I fart in his general direction. No I don’t think he was right in his comments. No I don’t think the reporter should have pretended the words were not offensive. But the man, as much of a jerk as he is, has the right to his opinion and has the right to express it, regardless of how offensive I may believe it to be. If I were to get my nose out of joint every time someone laughed at my faith, laughed at my speaking French with my children, laughed at my putting my family before my work, laughed at my supporting my husband, my skin would be so thin you could see my organs. It would split at the slightest dry comment. The man is an asshole, but he expressed his stupidity OUTSIDE of his work environment so the boss was a communist for firing him. If we excuse this, then soon people will be fired for voting Conservative, because the leftist bleeding hearts want to drown the right wingers. If we support this man being fired for being stupid and sexist, ON HIS OWN TIME!!!!! then there is no hope for democracy. Our fallen soldiers are rolling over in their graves.
commented 2015-05-14 00:32:06 -0400
These men are clearly old enough to know better, seriously pathetic!(shamed their mothers right after Mothers day!) Hydro One doesn’t need that guy representing them, but/and, Erin makes some really good points. The property rights issue of the media, is also far fetched, ridiculous even, in my opinion.
commented 2015-05-14 00:02:43 -0400
Correction. I realize he wasn’t the one that actually shouted the vulgar comments, don’t care. Whatever ALL these idiots get, they deserve.
commented 2015-05-13 23:56:29 -0400
How is it that so many yahoos out there do not know the meaning of the word “prank”? They seem to have it confused with “prick”, which is exactly what this moron was being. There is no element of a prank (or trick) in shouting misogynist obscenities. He was also wrong in claiming his vulgar outburst had nothing to do with the reporter. Besides the fact that he was clearly interfering while she was trying to do her job, his vulgar comments are the business of every woman. I would like to see how hilarious he thinks this is if it was done to his mother or sister. Doubt he has a wife or girlfriend. He got what he deserved.
commented 2015-05-13 23:09:53 -0400
I find the argument about interference with property rights a bit far-fetched. It is the job of TV news journalists to go out into the public arena and report public events, and this job often involves the reporter becoming part of the news itself, whether inadvertently or deliberately.
Just because you’re pointing a camera at the event doesn’t mean you have ownership over the spectacle. More often than not, these random #FHRITP type episodes morph into viral videos, thus affording the news outlet even greater publicity and exposure. If anything, their so-called property value has only increased.
commented 2015-05-13 22:30:28 -0400
Marisa, next time you should consult an employment/labour lawyer or a constitutional law scholar on this topic. With all due respect to a fellow member of the Law Society, Mr. Prutschi should restrict his legal opinions to his own particular practice area and realm of expertise — criminal defence. I know a number of employment/labour lawyers who would vehemently disagree with his view as to the legality of Hydro One’s termination of this employee, especially since there was nothing to identify him as having any affiliation with Hydro One, and Hydro One’s Code of Conduct applies only to employees while in the “work environment”.
I was hoping for more of an insider’s explanation and analysis of the criminal standard required to ground a section 175 charge of causing a public disturbance. I suppose I’ll have to settle for R. v. Lohnes, 1992 1 SCR 167.
Criminal statutes must be interpreted strictly. I have a hard time importing a right to undisturbed peace and tranquility in public spaces. I am constantly assaulted by disturbances from all kinds of sources, from aggressive panhandlers and crazy, ranting indigent persons, to obnoxious protesters who obstruct public roads and impede rights of access and illegally occupy public/private spaces.
commented 2015-05-13 22:02:55 -0400
Let’s hope this guy sues all three, HydroOne, City TV and the overly sensitive , snot of a urinalist. I see a big settlement on all three.
Let’s also hope that the publicity generated by this story encourages others to scream FHRITP!! at journalists every time they show their face in public.
commented 2015-05-13 21:10:33 -0400
Hydro One fired the guy on PIG WYNNE’s order. This socialist hate PIG also hates men – and was quite happy, in the name of her misogyny legislation to make the call to have the person fired.
You are a PIG WYNNE!!!
commented 2015-05-13 21:08:27 -0400
By what this lawyer is saying wasting time and video tape by saying “no comment” is something the media could come after you for in small claims court.
commented 2015-05-13 20:09:03 -0400
Maybe Elizabeth May should be fired also.
commented 2015-05-13 19:36:40 -0400
Play it safe folks…don’t say ANYTHING to the media.
commented 2015-05-13 19:28:18 -0400
Since when did the ethically compromised media become so sensitive about rudeness? It’s akin to a whore complaining about the language their customers use .,