I am not a close friend of Derek Finkle, the former editor of Toro magazine. I’d say we are to each other the very definition of “acquaintance.” He knows who I am and vice versa. We had a chat over beers about five years ago. Ever since, we say a pleasant hello whenever our paths cross, which happens maybe twice a year. I never wrote for Toro — I never pitched him a story, and he never called me with a story he wanted me to write. So I am not shilling for my buddy when I say that Derek Finkle is a lion of journalism in this country for the work he has done in the past, and for the fight he is waging now.
In 1998 he wrote No Claim to Mercy, a book about the conviction of Robert Baltovich for the murder of his girlfriend, Elizabeth Bain, which Finkle thought was fishy. The book was an exercise in one of journalism’s first principles: while the state may have a monopoly on convictions and sentencing, it does not have a monopoly on investigation. Any crank is allowed to do that, provided they have a hunger for the truth and the gumption to track it down. In this instance, Finkle is no crank, and No Claim to Mercy held the justice system to account: within 18 months of its publication Baltovich was free on bail, and four years of legal proceedings later, the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered a new trial.
Now, as part of said new trial, the prosecution wants to subpoena all of Finkle’s research material for the book. Finkle argues that agents of the court—whether prosecution or defence—should present their own investigative work at trial. He is absolutely right. The point of a new trial is to send police back to the drawing board to do their job properly. Instead, their plan is to forcibly compel Finkle to serve as their private investigator, which is lazy at best, and pernicious at worst. This subpoena is chilling not just for journalists, but for anyone with an inquisitive mind. The state wants to impound one man’s independent inquiry as though it were a car. Then, once seized, they intend to use it for their own purposes.
And so Derek—can I call him Derek?—is challenging the legal validity of the subpoena. As editor of Toro he helped revive Canadian magazines as a forum for investigative journalism, but this battle could do more for the genre than any piece he ever published. He has organized a fundraising event called Write Aid, which will be held May 24 at Stones Place. (Full disclosure: the live entertainment includes the band 3 Chord Johnny, whose members include my neighbour and colleague, David Hayes, and my paymaster, Toronto Life editor John Macfarlane.) Derek hopes to turn Write Aid into an institution, and plans to use part of the money raised to create a fund for the next poor sod who runs afoul of the justice system. For more on this story, and to buy tickets or simply donate to the cause, go to www.writeaid.ca