Since our last report analyzing the initiatives taken by the Trudeau government to return to a status of freedom of communication for scientists and civil servants, there has been a much-needed opening for debate and the defense of Citizen's right to know. Notwithstanding such commendable initiative, there is still a generalized perception of lack of transparency on certain issues that have increasingly become the center of attention.
The organization of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression CJFE has continued to monitor several attempts against freedom of the press arising from judicial decisions where there had been a clear infringement of the Freedom to Information Act. CJFE is intervening in a court case that could end secrecy in Ontario's tribunals. On February 6, 2017, the Toronto Star filed a challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms seeking to combat the lack of transparency that presently surrounds provincial administrative and quasi-judicial tribunals. CJFE supports the Toronto Star's position.
On January was approved the Bill S-231, a much-awaited Journalistic Sources Protection Act, which was introduced to amend the Canada Evidence Act and the Criminal Code in terms of the protection of journalistic sources. The Bill received Royal assent. The following excerpt is from the published bill:
"This enactment amends the Canada Evidence Act to protect the confidentiality of journalistic sources. It allows journalists to refuse to disclose information or a document that identifies or is likely to identify a journalistic source unless the information or document cannot be obtained by any other reasonable means and the public interest in the administration of justice outweighs the public interest in preserving the confidentiality of the journalistic source.
The enactment also amends the Criminal Code so that only a judge of a superior court of criminal jurisdiction or a judge within the meaning of section 552 of that Act may issue a search warrant relating to a journalist. It also provides that a search warrant can be issued only if the judge is satisfied that there is no other way by which the desired information can reasonably be obtained and that the public interest in the investigation and prosecution of a criminal offence outweighs the journalist's right to privacy in the collection and dissemination of information. The judge must also be satisfied that these same conditions apply before an officer can examine, reproduce or make copies of a document obtained under a search warrant relating to a journalist."
In spite of the above victory for freedom of the press, the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) has had to be very active this semester in its efforts to uphold the principles of that ruling.
In what proves to be a very lamentable occurrence, a ruling handed down by Justice Jean-François Émond calls on Radio-Canada investigative journalist Marie-Maude Denis to identify sources who came forward as part of her investigation into alleged collusion in the awarding of public contracts in Quebec. A wide variety of press-freedom groups swiftly condemned Émond's decision, which comes as VICE News reporter Ben Makuch prepares for his appeal at the Supreme Court of an RCMP order to disclose his own confidential sources.
Also very recently, the CAJ condemned the arrest of Radio Canada Reporter Antoine Trépanier for alleged criminal harassment. Police arrested Trépanier on March 13 after a woman he had repeatedly approached for comment on a story he was reporting filed a police complaint. "Pursuing comment from the key subject in a story is the basis of responsible journalism," said CAJ president Nick Taylor-Vaisey. "The detention of a journalist in the process of doing his job by bringing a matter of public interest to the fore is troubling."
The CAJ continues to call for the creation of a special advocate who, at the request of a judge, could ask for the continued protection of sources in those instances when legal authorities are looking for warrants for the surveillance or confiscation of records that could lead to the recognition of anonymous sources.
The decline of readership of Canadian printed press continues to increase and surprise, as many local newspapers are forced to close down and dozens of workers are left without a job. The Canadian Press has not found new ways to deliver a content that abounds online at no cost of subscription or per-issue purchase.