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Not all contempt is created equal

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In an effort to remain relevant to a much larger, younger audience, I have made a new commitment to Tweet during the election campaign. Those unfortunate enough to have followed me on Twitter before know that this is not the first time I have committed to using Twitter. I have been the proverbial heroin addict who promises to be better but ends up falling back into bad habits. This time I mean it. Really. I’m serious. Just watch me.

With multiple events happening in multiple cities and time zones, I have developed a new appreciation for the immediacy of Twitter. But, as is the case with blogging and social media portals, I also have concerns about the veracity of the information being shared. And the untapped potential for mischief.

This morning, CBC commentator Kady O’Malley was putting in a heroic effort to set the record straight on the contempt motion that brought down the Conservative government last week. Kady is a dedicated blogger/tweeter/columnist that most political reporters cannot do without.

Kady spent quite a bit of time trying to calm the frayed nerves of hysterical bloggers and Tweeters who were convinced that Prime Minister Stephen Harper should be legally prevented from running in this election because he was convicted of "contempt" of parliament.

In this case, the facts and not fiction were that contempt of parliament was the same as criminal contempt. That would be the Criminal Code offence laid against someone who refused a court order, or disrupted court proceedings, or refused to testify when compelled. It is a crime and it might have an impact on someone’s ability to run for office, but even that is not a certainty.

Kady’s diligent efforts were supported by my brother of a different mother Glen McGregor, a reporter at the Ottawa Citizen and one of the best bloggers anywhere. Glen elegantly summarizes the whole stupid debate about Harper’s eligibility on the Citizen’s election blog.

Bottom line: Although semantically the entire thing may create some confusion, parliamentary contempt is NOT the same as criminal contempt. Kincaid’s stated conclusion jumps right past the whole issue of WHAT parliamentary contempt is, and concludes that it IS a crime.

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.

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