Lawrence Wright won a Pulitzer Prize for The Looming Tower, his book on al Qaeda and 9/11, but the author’s evident stature and reputation haven’t eased concerns that his new book could create libel issues north of the 49th parallel.
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief is published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S., which also holds Canadian rights. But Knopf has held off on releasing the book here for fear of opening itself up to a lawsuit. Libel laws in the U.S. are significantly more lenient than those in Canada or the U.K.
However, writing in the Toronto Star, Greg Quill suggests that Wright’s book may be made available following a legal review by Canadian libel lawyers.
If the Church of Scientology is going to make a legal strike against Going Clear, it will likely be in Canada, because our libel laws are more favorable to alleged victims of defamation, book industry insiders say.
Those laws make Canada excellent libel chill territory, says Franklin Carter, editor and researcher for Canada’s Book and Periodical Council’s Freedom of Expression Committee.
According to Carter, the chill effect does not even result from the possibility of losing a suit. Lawsuits may be launched even if a work is factually accurate, on the assumption that defendants would rather settle than absorb the prohibitive costs involved in going to court. The Star quotes Jacob Ziegel, an emeritus professor of law at the University of Toronto, as saying: “Canada’s libel laws generally put publishers at considerable risk…. They’re seriously antiquated and need to be changed.”
Quill also points out that the book had been made available on Amazon.ca, although as of Monday, its status had been amended to “unavailable.”