With a prosecutor upset about disclosures on this blog about the scrapie-related sheep-napping case, a Canadian judge earlier today took the extraordinary step of imposing a news blackout on the case. 


The effect of the blackout was immediate: The National Post, a major Canadian publication, immediately took down an article published Friday about how a sheep identified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as a carrier of scrapie may well have come from the U.S., and not from Montana Jones’ herd of rare Shropshire sheep. If that is the case, then her sheep were likely destroyed as part of a charade to shift blame, and the charges against her and Michael Schmidt are a sham as well.


Fortunately, you can find the article–here’s a cached version from Google; it was also re-posted on a Texas blog about scrapie. But better hurry if it’s something you want to have a copy of–who knows how long it will last anywhere. Also, The Bovine has a summary and excerpts


Even news of the judge’s order seemed to be blacked out. Confirmation came from the Schmidt-Jones defense team. It’s hard to believe the Canadian media would be so timid as to immediately go along with a court’s order to put a muzzle on free speech, without even so much as a whimper, or a court challenge of their own. 


It’s also hard to believe the judge would act so precipitously. Canadian legal rules provide that requests for news blackouts in preliminary inquiries of the sort ongoing for Schmidt and Jones should come in advance of the inquiry. Once the inquiry begins, both sides are required to agree to it. But the judge seems to have ignored the fact that the defense opposed the blackout, and wouldn’t even allow time for the defense lawyer, Shawn Buckley, to fly cross country to mount an argument against the prosecution request. 


The news blackout seemed to be motivated by two desires: 

1. Most important, to limit the expanding flow of embarrassing information coming out about the CFIA’s handling of the case. The first of that information came via a 22-page letter from a member of the defense team that I posted last week, and do again here now. The defense lawyer, Shawn Buckley, accuses the CFIA of “hiding” key information and of making only partial disclosures of email exchanges among agents, so as to confuse the defense. My decision to publish this letter apparently irked the CFIA prosecutor and, together with the article in the National Post, convinced the prosecution to seek the news blackout. 


– A secondary goal seems to be to dry up contributions to the Canadian Constitutional Foundation, which is mounting the defense for farmers Michael Schmidt and Montana Jones. From the start, the prosecution has tried an array of tactics to disrupt the defense in this bizarre case that stems from a 2010 dispute between the Canadian government and farm owner Montana Jones over whether her rare Shropshire sheep should be slaughtered because they were supposedly exposed to the serious disease, scrapie. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the equivalent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, insisted the sheep needed to be slaughtered to determine for certain whether they harbored scrapie. Jones insisted there was no evidence they did, and sought to negotiate a compromise whereby her farm would be quarantined for up to five years to be certain. The CFIA refused to bend. When its agents arrived in 2012, the sheep had disappeared, with only a note left behind that the sheep had been placed in “protective custody” by something called the “Farmers Peace Corps.” (The Canadian Constitutional Foundation has provided additional background on the case.)


Canadian supporters of Schmidt and Jones are rightfully worried that the absence of news coverage in Canada could seriously hurt the case. I’m not so sure. Sometimes, when governments attempt censorship, that simply stirs supporters to work around the censorship attempts and get the information out more widely than it otherwise would have gone. That’s one of the big advantages of the Internet. 


I have committed to Canadian supporters to use this blog as a source of information on what’s happening in the case. To give that commitment leverage, I encourage readers to circulate this blog post as well as other news reports that will be coming up as widely as possible on social media. Use your Facebook groups and Twitter accounts to get the word out as widely as you can. Encourage re-distribution. 


I have also committed to getting the word out about the need to raise funds for the defense team. The banner at the top of this post provides information about contributing to the Canadian Constitutional Foundation, which is defending the farmers; here is a link to the donation page.  


Here’s my prediction: This blackout will spring so many leaks that the news coverage will become bigger and wider than it ever would have been otherwise.