Canada

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Several setbacks to press freedom and freedom of expression were reported in recent months. In January, the Supreme Court dismissed two appeals concerning freedom of the press to report and as a result its action is now affecting the way broadcast reporters do their job. The Court disallowed the media from broadcasting official audio recordings of court proceedings. In another decision it ruled that the courts have a right to limit reporters who are using cameras to areas that they designate in the courthouse area, rather than anywhere they want within the building outside of the courtroom itself. At issue was a 2004 decision by the Quebec Superior Court to put limits on where reporters could use their cameras and recorders in covering criminal and civil cases. They previously had free rein outside of the courtroom but now were required to conduct interviews only in designated areas. Press representatives appealed the new rules, but they were now upheld by the Supreme Court. The other appeal resulted from a confession caught on camera during the criminal trial of a man, Stephane Dufour, on a charge of helping his uncle commit suicide. Dufour went on to be acquitted. At issue were statements he made about his role in his uncle’s death that were recorded on video before his indictment. A television network, Groupe TVA, sought permission to broadcast the video but this was denied and it, with other media outlets, appealed that decision to the Canadian Supreme Court. The Court acknowledged that the restriction amounted to an infringement of freedom of expression rights, but said that it was “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society” to ensure “the serenity of hearings.” It added, “The fair administration of justice is necessarily dependent on maintaining order and decorum in and near courtrooms and on protecting the privacy of litigants appearing before the courts.” The Court’s decisions have been seen by the media as a setback for the ability to report. The organization of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) said the courts ought to “move into the 21st century and allow the use of modern technology to provide the public with the ability to see and hear what goes on in the courts.” A proposal by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission of the Canadian Parliament has proposed amending a regulation that bans the broadcast of what is regarded as false or misleading news on the grounds that the wording appears to contravene what is contained in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The proposed new wording would make it illegal to report information only if those reporting it are aware it is not true and if it “endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public,” Opponents to the suggestion say there already exist libel and slander laws to remedy misinformation. On December 31 a British Columbia judge ordered a reporter with the Vancouver newspaper The Province, Elaine O’Connor, to identify her confidential source for a story about alleged overspending by a former Member of Parliament during an election campaign. The judge was reported to be seeking to determine the motive for the source’s action. The newspaper said it would appeal the order. Earlier the Canadian Supreme Court had upheld the principle of reporter-source confidentiality, holding that judges should compel journalists to reveal their sources “only as a last resort” – that is, when crucial information if not obtainable otherwise. In another development, the Supreme Court upheld a plea by a man who distributed anti-gay leaflets to be allowed to challenge the constitutionality of the Human Rights Code of the province of Saskatchewan. The man, Bill Whatcott, is questioning the part of the Code that authorizes the Human Rights Commission there to charge people with hate speech. “The utilization of human rights commissions to stop someone from saying that same-sex sexual activity is wrong infringes Charter of Rights and Freedom rights” to freedom of speech, freedom of press and freedom of religion,” Whatcott’s lawyer, Tom Schuck, argued in contesting the Commission’s finding that Whatcott had violated the code. The provincial Court of Appeal sided with Whatcott, ruling that leaflets he had distributed might have been crude and offensive but they did not promote hatred or step over the boundary of free expression. The Human Rights Commission in turn appealed that decision to the Canadian Supreme Court, with the appeal expected to be heard in October. The CJFE named The Citizen Lab, a Toronto-based center that investigates digital spying and has developed software to circumvent censorship, the winner of its 2010 Vox Libera Award for outstanding commitment to the principles of free expression, noting that the lab had exposed a massive filtering system in China that tracks and keeps records of text messages containing politically charged words sent over the Internet via the Skype application.

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