As of this writing, the most-read story on this website concerns an interview given by an occasionally homeless man to an Australian TV program
Alan Schmegelsky is, of course, the father of Bryer, the Port Alberni teen who died by suicide in rural Manitoba.
This came after Bryer and his childhood friend, Kam McLeod, went on an apparent murder spree in northern B.C.
My article pointed out that 60 Minutes Australia, which broadcast the interview with Schmegelsky, has paid subjects of past stories for interviews.
It's legal in Australia.
But in B.C., there's a law called the Profits of Criminal Notoriety Act.
This makes it illegal in many cases for people or companies to buy the stories of extremely violent crimes from anyone charged or convicted of these crimes or their family members.
The law was passed in the B.C. legislature in 2016 after serial killer Robert Pickton wrote a book and put it up for sale on Amazon.
Yesterday, I contacted the B.C. RCMP to ask if it has launched an investigation of Alan Schmegelsky and/or 60 Minutes Australia to determine if either party may have violated the Profits of Criminal Notoriety Act.
Cpl. Chris Manseau replied that he was not aware of any investigation or complaint. He pointed that there hasn't even been confirmation that Schmegelsky was paid by 60 Minutes Australia.
My impression (and I could be wrong) is that this is the end of this matter. Consider it as yet another case of a journalist tilting at a windmill, as the saying goes.
Schmegelsky's conduct is just one aspect of the story
My original article didn't go over well with a couple of readers, who made their views known in the comments section.
They felt that I was on a populist witch hunt against Schmegelsky.
He's a sad case—a man who, in the past, has struggled with mental illness. He seemed legitimately pained by what happened to his son.
But I also feel sympathy for families of the three who were murdered in northern B.C. and their friends.
If they watched the show, they had to endure Schmegelsky's self-pitying claims that he bore no responsibility whatsoever, even though he bought his son a pellet gun.
He also declared that he won't believe that his son is a killer until he sees proof of this.
I admit to feeling a bit of disgust over Schmegelsky repeatedly saying "kudos" and appearing to cheer on his son and his friend during the 60 Minutes Australia show.
This came after the teens eluded police and had reached Manitoba, triggering a massively expensive search and frightening residents in several communities.
If there was a payment—and this has not been denied by 60 Minutes Australia or its reporter—it may not even be in the public interest to charge Schmegelsky, given his mental state.
Besides, the B.C. Prosecution Service might conclude that a clever lawyer acting for Schmegelsky could argue that the Profits of Criminal Notoriety Act violates his charter right to freedom of expression and freedom of association.
That would mean a potentially long, complicated case. Prosecutorial resources might be better allocated to other criminal files—even if it's ever proven that the show paid Schmegelsky.
Media outlets aren't immune to prosecution
My bigger concern is whether the RCMP will turn a blind eye if giant, publicly traded media companies from other countries show up in B.C. and buy stories from heinous criminals or their direct relatives.
Do we want FOX News buying Dave Pickton's story? How would you feel if the Daily Mail or any other British tabloid paid descendants of serial killer Clifford Olsen to share their thoughts?
As I watched Schmegelsky speak on 60 Minutes Australia—and supplying the Australian show with family videos—I immediately suspected in my gut that he could have been paid.
Here's why: shortly after the murders, Schmegelsky was speaking to a bunch of media outlets.
Then he went underground, only to resurface on another continent's TV show after his son was dead.
Follow the money, the source known as Deep Throat told Watergate journalist Bob Woodward nearly 40 years ago.
The 60 Minutes Australia executive producer and the corporation's directors will likely never volunteer whether they paid Schmegelsky.
They don't announce their payments to Australian sources, though it's widely known to occur. It's even been admitted by one of the show's former star correspondents.
In Canada, a Canadian Association of Journalists committee stressed the importance of full disclosure if chequebook journalism has occurred.
Keep in mind that there will be financial records if payments were made to Schmegelsky.
One of the murder victims, Lucas Fowler, is the son of a senior police investigator in New South Wales, where the 60 Minutes Australia program and its parent corporation's head office are based.
Surely, the RCMP could contact police in New South Wales and ask them to execute a search warrant to determine if there was a contract or if money was transferred between the corporation that owns the show, Nine Entertainment Co., and Schmegelsky.
An officer could be dispatched to look at Schmegelsky's recent spending habits in B.C. to see if there's evidence that he suddenly came into $10,000 or $50,000 or even more money.
If a payment was made, Schmegelsky will be legally required to report it on next year's tax return.
Chequebook journalism favours large media corporations
Why does this matter, you might ask?
It's because chequebook journalism is not a big part of Canada's media culture—and it's in the public interest to ensure that it doesn't gain a foothold in sensational murder cases.
There's nothing stopping Schmegelsky from telling his story to the media.
The only legal issue is whether he or other relatives of people charged with murder can profit from doing this.
The Profits of Criminal Notoriety Act merely makes it illegal for violent criminals and their direct family members to cash in on the heartache that these criminals cause to relatives of people like murder victims Chynna Deese, Lucas Fowler, and Len Dyck.
We've already seen the phone-hacking scandals in the U.K., in which media outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch's company engaged in dirty tricks to generate larger audiences, which could be monetized for shareholders.
There's a history in Australia of bidding wars between giant corporations for exclusive news stories.
This provides an incentive for the sellers of these stories to puff them up and make them more sensational for audiences to receive bigger payments.
After all, chequebook journalism is really about buying ratings.
Is this what we want to see in British Columbia—where those outlets that have the deepest pockets have an unfair advantage because they can go out and purchase the stories of killers and their relatives?
B.C.'s charge-approval process requires prosecutors to determine if it's in the public interest before anyone or any company is forced to respond to criminal or statutory allegations in court.
If police and prosecutors ever come to the conclusion that a payment was made by a foreign-owned media corporation to get an exclusive story from a murderer or his or her family member in B.C., I argue that it is in the public interest to pursue this to its logical end.
As someone who has worked in the B.C. media for three decades, I can't imagine paying a relative of a serial killer for his or her story. It's likely beyond the pale for almost every assignment editor in Canada.
And for those who don't feel this is a moral concern, they likely won't do it because in many provinces, it's illegal.
I'm not going to file a complaint to the RCMP about the case involving Australian 60 Minutes.
I don't have proof that money changed hands.
But surely even a cursory examination of the facts should be able to tell police whether there's any case worth bringing forward to the B.C. Prosecution Service.
That's what our tax dollars pay the Mounties to do.