Zeke’s Gallery scandal explained (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Tremblay speaks out.

The local blogosphere is abuzz with outrage over the situation affecting the Zeke’s Gallery blog, whose posts have now all disappeared. I wrote about the case in The Gazette last week.

There’s some misinformation and faulty assumptions going around, so I’m going to do the best I can to explain what exactly happened here, in chronological order.


Feb. 7, 2003: Radio-Canada reports that Pierre-Antoine Tremblay, an art dealer/agent, sold 26 paintings to Loto-Quebec for $130,000, and that the paintings’ authenticity are in doubt. It also mentions that Tremblay has been accused of fraud dozens of times in the past decade.

Feb. 14, 2003: Le Devoir goes into more detail about the story, which is more about Tremblay’s boss at the SAQ, Gaëtan Frigon, who also ran Loto-Quebec, and the apparent conflicts of interest that led to Frigon’s departure from Loto-Quebec.

March 5, 2003: Loto-Quebec issues a press release saying that they have confirmed at least one work sold to them by Tremblay is “forged” and another is of “questionable authenticity”.

Nov. 24, 2006: The National Post publishes an article about Frank Martorana, a car dealer who police determined was involved with the Rizzuto crime family. The article makes no mention of Tremblay. Some time prior to this date (probably June 2, 2005), an article appears on this website about Martorana, saying he owned a Japanese restaurant with Tremblay and stole paintings from Tremblay’s gallery. (Tremblay would later clarify that the business relationship was with Martorana’s wife, not Martorana himself).

Nov. 25, 2006: Chris Hand posts an item to his blog about the National Post article, and includes links to the previous news stories:

Howdy!

According to this article, a guy named Frank Martorana was in business with Pierre-Antoine Tremblay, who tried to sell some fake paintings to Loto-Quebec. Because of him, a bunch of different police forces here in Canada started to investigate the Mafia for something like five years, and resulted in them arresting a gazillion and a half people on Thursday.

This might even be a better story than Victor Pellerin.

April 10, 2007: Louis Frédéricq Carmichael, who represents Tremblay, sends a mise en demeure to Hand. It takes issue with the sentence that begins “Because of him”, because it seems to say things about Tremblay which are actually true about Martorana. It threatens and injunction if the post is not corrected immediately and says that he will be checking the site every hour.

April 14, 2007: Hand says he receives the mise en demeure on this day. He says he immediately called Carmichael and left a message.

April 16, 2007: Hand posts a scanned copy of the mise en demeure to the blog, along with an explanation saying Tremblay “doesn’t like this here blog”.

April 17, 2007: Hand says Carmichael returns Hand’s message and explains that Tremblay wants the post fixed to make it clear that he’s talking about Martorana, not Tremblay. Hand edits the post (replacing “because of him” with “because of Martorana”) and laments that he won’t be going to court after all over this. (My post on this)

April 19, 2007: Carmichael issues a second mise en demeure, saying he is “surprised” to see the first go online (clearly Carmichael doesn’t know Hand very well). He says Hand’s attitude is only escalating the situation, and that legal action is being planned. He makes three demands that were not present in the original mise en demeure:

  1. Remove any suggestion that Tremblay owns Galerie 2000 Inc. (Hand contends to this day he can find no post on his blog that makes this claim)
  2. Remove any suggestion that Tremblay was “associated” with Martorana. (It objects to the “sous-entendus” that Tremblay might have been associated with the mafia)
  3. Remove any suggestion that Tremblay tried to sell forged paintings to Loto-Quebec. (It notes that an out-of-court settlement was reached without Tremblay admitting fault and the paintings are still at Loto-Quebec)

April 20, 2007: Hand receives the second letter. He calls Carmichael the next day and leaves another message. Hand says Carmichael never returns the call.

April 23, 2007: Hand posts the second letter on his blog. (My post on this notes that other bloggers are now starting to pay attention to the case)

May 14, 2007: Carmichael files an injuncton request, repeating the three demands of the second letter and demanding $25,000 from Hand.

May 17, 2007: Not to sound like a broken record or anything, but Hand posts the injunction request (at least the first page — it’s 17 pages long) to the blog.

May 29, 2007: Tremblay wins the first round in court, getting a temporary injunction forcing the posts off the blog. Hand, of course, posts the judgment to his blog the next day and removes the posts. (My post on this)

May 31, 2007: The first media coverage of the case in Hour.

June 6, 2007: Hand shows up to a YULblog meeting with documents in hand, enlisting the support of local bloggers in his cause.

June 9, 2007: My article in The Gazette. I’m promptly Geisted.

June 16, 2007: The Globe and Mail publishes an article about blogs and libel chill, mentioning Hand prominently. My post on the subject opines that bloggers don’t deserve special treatment compared to the rest of the media.

June 18, 2007: On the advice of his lawyer, Hand removes access to all posts on the Zeke’s Gallery blog.

June 21, 2007: Hand is in court to fight a permanent injunction. The judge renews the injunction, but without increased restrictions demanded by the plaintiff.

June 26, 2007: Blogger Michel Leblanc publishes a statement from Tremblay explaining that he’s a poor businessman just trying to clear his good name. I examine some points and counter-points.

Sept. 6, 2007: Next day in court for this case and related cases.

Other blog coverage of this case:

Other resources:

My take: Tremblay’s attempt to clear his name in a libel case that may or may not have merit has backfired dramatically, and no amount of legal action will make people like him better. Both will have to spend money on lawyers, money they probably won’t be refunded. As a result, Hand will be a lot more self-censoring in the future.

On the other hand, this isn’t half as important as some people make it out to be. It’s not the death of free speech in Canada any more than the multi-million-dollar Pants Lawsuit is the death of dry-cleaning. It’s an overzealous litigator going after a small-guy loud-mouth for libel. It’s happened before, and it’ll happen again.

The real problem here isn’t with Canadian media law, it’s with the power of lawsuits to intimidate those people without the power to defend themselves.

19 thoughts on “Zeke’s Gallery scandal explained (UPDATED)

  1. heri

    for me the lawsuit is frivolous, but Chris lost the first court injunction. what’s more, it goes beyond chris’s blog. i still think this should be considered very seriously

    Reply
  2. Hugh

    OK there is a very important detail that I misunderstood (I think), mentioned here: http://blog.fagstein.com/?p=349

    “A request for an injunction was granted, forcing the offending posts offline until the matter can be dealt with on June 21.”

    So my worry, that a court ruling against Zeke had in fact come down already is not the case – but he’s been forced to take the blog down (overkill, no?) till the hearing june 21. or at least that’s what I understand from your article.

    Tho I must say, I read the judgement, and I thought it was a ruling, tho I can’t find it any more, since all Zeke’s blogs have been taken down.

    In any case, I agree that bloggers should not be treated any differently than MSM in libel cases … what I fail to see is how Zeke linking to media stories in the public record (and still up), and posting legal documents which are, I presume, also in the public record, can be considered libelous (again, once the language was clarified).

    So the worry is a court system that does not laugh these claims out of court immediately, but rather takes the draconian position that the whole blog should be shut down until the proceedings are done.

    (tho, again, knowing chris, i am sure he has not helped his own cause!)

    Reply
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  5. LadyW

    Uuurgh, it stinks alright. This being said, I have to believe in my pink little heart that it’s just another example of traditionnal communication networks having issues adapting to new and infinitely more slippery media. I do think in the end that honesty and transparency will prevail, the current is just too powerful.

    (I’m certainly going to wait a while longer before I use my real name though ; )

    Reply
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