Canada

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IAPA Midyear Meeting 2016
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
April 8-11
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One of the first pronouncements Justin Trudeau made after being elected Prime Minister of Canada in October was to express his support for a free press. "I have made a long-standing principle, and value of, freedom of the press ... a strong and independent media is an essential component in a strong and vibrant democracy ... the principle of freedom of the press is important to me, it is important to the government," he told a news conference in November.


He was speaking after questions were raised about Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) investigations into the source of leaks of government documents to journalists and the organization Reporters Without Borders (RWB) issued a review of the evolution of freedom of the press and information during the tenure of his predecessor as head of the Canadian government, Stephen Harper.


During that period there had been, the RWB said, "systematic curtailment of photographers' freedom of movement and limited access to the Prime Minister for interviews or even during press events."


One item concerning freedom of expression on the new government's agenda, the organization PEN Canada reported, was the need for revision, if not repeal, of a previously passed piece of legislation, the Anti-Terrorism Act, also known as Bill C-51, which had broadened the authority of government agencies to share information about individuals easily. Press freedom organizations have been among those criticizing the scope of the act.


PEN Canada has also urged the government to strengthen access-to-information legislation. In addition, in a statement issued in November it declared that Canada's civil defamation laws "make it possible for wealthy actors to launch strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP suits) ... to stifle criticism of their activities." The Ontario and Quebec jurisdictions are the only ones so far to have adopted anti-SLAPP legislation.


In February journalist and activist Mohamed Fahmy, who had worked for Al Jazeera in Egypt, where he was arrested and imprisoned, proposed the government adopt a new Protection Charter to increase Canada's intervention and support for its citizens and journalists detained or imprisoned abroad. The proposal was officially endorsed by the organization Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE).


An order by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in March that journalist Ben Makuch hand over private communications he had with a source "sets a negative precedent for press freedom," the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) declared.


The communications were with Farah Shirdon, a Canadian citizen who was said to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State (ISIS) group. Shirdon was later charged in absentia with participating in a terrorist group and terrorist activity, news reports said.


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