“Men are dying while Ottawa fuddles.”
Andrew D. MacLean – March 1943

If the dead can’t sue... 
...is it OK to trash them?

About this Website

This website is about a Canadian veteran, and the posthumous portrayal of him by a government historian. It is also about the moral responsibility of writers.

Betrayed: Scandal, Politics and Canadian Naval Leadership, a book by Richard O. Mayne, concerns events surrounding the firing of the Vice Admiral of the Canadian Navy during WWII. Mayne’s depiction of Andrew D. MacLean in this story is, in our view, unfair and inaccurate.

Betrayed is the only public account of MacLean’s life and his contribution to the country. We’ve created this space to fill that absence, to lend nuance to the historical narrative in Betrayed, and to include other writers and readers in the debate.

What is a writer’s obligation to those we write about after their deaths? How does the code of “fair and balanced” apply in the case of those who play minor roles in history? Such questions lie at the heart of non-fiction writing.

— Susan Crean & Rory MacLean

What would you do…?

…if you discovered a close relative had been defamed in the media?

  • If the allegations were made in a television documentary, you can complain to the producers, the broadcaster, and ultimately the CRTC which regulates the industry and licences television channels.
  • If they were printed in a newspaper, you can write a letter to the editor with some expectation of it being published. Or take your case to the newspaper’s ombudsman or the Press Council.
  • If they were published in a magazine you can write a letter to the editor or complain to the publisher or Press Council.
  • If the allegations were published in a book, you can contact the author to request a revision. If ignored, the person libelled can sue the author.

…and if your relative’s dead?

  • There are few legal risks in making allegations posthumously about a person’s character and motivations. The restraints are moral and ethical.

In Our Case

The defamatory profile of Andrew D. MacLean is in a book we came across by chance … six years after it was published. Neither its author nor publisher had made any effort to contact Andrew’s survivors during the research period or on publication.

At the best of times, there is no way to ‘set the record straight’ without the co-operation of a book’s writer. If the matters at stake are about interpretation and opinion, this gets tricky. Relatives are easily dismissed as being partial and touchy, while historians are assumed to be impartial and fair.

Academic practice does not follow the same protocol of fairness and balance as does journalism. And sometimes it shows, for example with events recent enough for people to remember the story or the person differently.


Susan Crean and Rory MacLean are two award-winning non-fiction writers with more than a dozen books and several decades of publishing experience between them. Both have taught creative writing and journalism. Both believe deeply in the responsibility of authors to their subjects, and equally in the right of writers to free expression. Susan Crean, who knew Andrew D. MacLean as a close friend of the family is currently based in Toronto having spent the 1990s on the West Coast. Rory MacLean, Andrew’s son, was born and raised in Canada and now divides his time between the UK and Berlin.

Involved as we are in the story, we believe there is an important issue at play here that speaks to our experience as writers. What is our responsibility to the people we write about who are dead but still live in memory?

What you’ll Find Here

  • Betrayed: a précis of the book and two reviews.
  • Authors’ Exchange: Richard Mayne and Rory MacLean exchange views in The Dorchester Review.
  • Who was Andrew D. MacLean? : a biography and Andrew’s commentary on the Navy in Boating magazine March-April, 1943.
  • Comments: What do writers owe the people they write about? Why does fairness matters?