Lawrence Wright’s highly buzzed book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, may eventually be available in Canada, pending a review of Canadian libel laws and the book’s chances of being dragged into lengthy and expensive litigation by the Church of Scientology, says a spokesman for New York-based publisher Alfred A. Knopf.
“Knopf U.S. holds the Canadian rights to the book and due to the tight publishing schedule, a Canadian legal review was not completed at the time of the U.S. publication,” the company representative said in a prepared statement.
“Given the differing legal systems in the US and Canada, Knopf decided not to make the book available for distribution in Canada at the present time until such legal review is completed.”
Among the claims in the Pulitzer Prize winning author’s book released earlier this month are:
Ontario’s libel laws are much tougher on publishers than similar legislation in the U.S., where freedom of speech has a premium value, says University of Toronto Professor of Law Emeritus Jacob Ziegel.
And “not just publishers, but everyone who has something to do with the dissemination of the material in question, from the author to the book seller.
“Canada’s libel laws generally put publishers at considerable risk. . . They’re seriously antiquated and need to be changed.”
Canadian retail book chain Chapters Indigo, which briefly advertised the book for sale on its web site last week, is also steering clear of Going Clear.
“This book has not been published in Canada, nor has it been purchased by Indigo Books & Music Inc.,” the company said. The book has also been withheld in Britain, whose libel laws are even tougher on publishers than Canada’s.
The renowned litigious practices of the Scientology organization, which denounced the book as fallacious and factually deficient, didn’t stop Amazon.ca, the Canadian arm of Seattle-based Internet retailer Amazon.com, from making the book available across Canada on its web site last week, where it was being sold for $15.56 plus shipping and handling.
On Monday, however, the book was mysteriously marked “unavailable” on Amazon.ca, but was still for sale on Amazon.com, with no limitations.
The company did not respond to the Star’s request for an interview by press time.
This may be the first time the mere fear of libel action has blocked a book’s publication in Canada, says Bill Harnum, president of the Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP).
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.
“Libel chill — the fear of getting sucked into an expensive, open-ended court battle for publishing something negative but true about a wealthy person or organization — isn’t new,” Carter says.
A recent decision (Grant Vs. Torstar Corp) that allows material published responsibly, and in the public interest, to be defended in defamation cases, has done little to mitigate the chill, he claims.