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Part of Harry Kopyto’s legacy includes his personal campaign for freedom of expression.
The public at large and lawyers in particular hesitated to criticize judges until Harry tweaked the nose of the judicial system in the late 1980s. With a few acerbic words reported in Toronto’s Globe & Mail, including a reference to the police and the courts being “stuck together with Krazy Glue”, all of that changed.
Kopyto was describing his 8-year unsuccessful struggle to seek accountability of the RCMP Security Service for admitted criminal acts as part of Operation Checkmate. For his colourful choice of words, he was banned from all courts and ordered to apologize by a Superior Court Judge. With a legion of lawyers backing him, including luminaries such as Margaret Atwood, Amnesty International and the Civil Liberties Association, Kopyto appealed his conviction and won. The law was declared unconstitutional in a landmark Charter of Rights decision defending freedom of expression made by five Judges of the Ontario Court of Appeal.
Decades later, the abolition of the law is still celebrated by legal scholars, newspaper columnists and free speech advocates.
Originally aired on CBC’s Fifth Estate in 1987, this 17 minute feature on Harry’s battle for freedom of expression was recently posted online by the Ontario Civil Liberties Association (OCLA). It catches Harry in mid-flight after he was charged but before his final victory. The feature was played before an enthusiastic audience on November 8, 2013 when Harry was given an inaugural award for promoting civil liberties (details on the award here).
Click here to view the Fifth Estate clip.