Blog by John Miller

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He'll be missed

I can accept a CBC without Battle of the Blades. I suppose I can even enjoy listening to CBC Radio without Dispatches. But I cannot imagine a CBC without Dan Henry.

The latest round of government-ordered budget cuts hit the national network this week, and if J-Source is right, one of them was the bean counters declaring that Henry, CBC's senior legal counsel since 1978, is redundant.

Danny Henry? Redundant?

That adjective does not belong with this man's name.

It's hard to think of another Canadian who has done more to peel back the legal restraints to good journalism, or to get good journalism on the air, than Henry, who one colleague calls a legal "rockstar."

His name has been associated with most of the landmark Canadian legal decisions about freedom of the press in recent years, including the important Dagenais decision of 1994, which established freedom of the press as equal to the charter's other protected rights, not automatically subservient to them. No longer can judges bar media coverage of court cases just because the accused has a right to a fair trial. Today, that judge must carefully weigh it against the value to the public of contemporaneous coverage of the case by the media.

Allowing the media to scrutinize the justice system is a passion of Henry's, and it is sadly ironic that I am posting this news of his demise on World Press Freedom Day.

It was Henry who spearheaded CBC's appeal of a court decision barring the network from airing a fictional movie, The Boys of St. Vincent, because it might affect the trial of some Catholic priests in Cornwall who were facing charges of sexual abuse. CBC took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, and won. Henry worked closely with lawyer Ian Binnie, who argued on behalf of the CBC, impressed the court with his arguments and later was named a Supreme Court justice himself.

It was a great pleasure to see both those great lawyers perform at last fall's convention of the Canadian Media Lawyers Association.  Binnie was being honoured upon his retirement from the Supreme Court, and the straight-laced Henry at one point took the stage fronted by a raucous rock band and belted out a hearfelt musical tribute. Binnie, who probably believes that Henry is so obsessed with Section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (which guarantees freedom of the press) that he must have it tattooed on his chest, beamed in surprise and appreciation.

No one has greater respect for what Henry has done than fellow media lawyer Brian MacLeod Rogers, who attended Osgoode Hall law school with him. He told J-Source: “The side of Danny that isn’t as public but is hugely important has been inside CBC, where he’s been utterly indispensible in providing advice about the news we get to hear, the documentaries we get to see, the insights that are shared with the public.… They’ve broadcast some of the most important programs that world television has seen, much less Canadian television.”

CBC has made a dreadful decision here. I can't help but feel its programming will be less courageous in the future without him there, for the first time in 34 years, even though the meticulous and driven Henry will surely have trained his successors well.