More than half of citizen surveyed feel that the nation's democracy is under threat because of a lack of transparency by federal, provincial, and municipal authorities when it comes to information released to the public.
Concern has been expressed that the pandemic has been used by authorities as an excuse to reduce citizen and media access to information. As pointed in recent months by the Canadian Association of Journalists, processes — including legal processes — should be restored, where possible, to pre-pandemic levels without delay. Access to information requests are often delayed or turned down entirely, and key details on how public monies are being used is often shrouded in the fog of pandemic-focused excuses.
Citizen and media group access to public information is often mired in labyrinthine systems, strangling bureaucracy, or obfuscation. Often, police forces and court systems seem reluctant to offer basic information.
This was seen during the April 2020 mass shootings in Nova Scotia. In the aftermath of the gun rampage, which left 22 dead, police were slow to provide an accurate version of key events to the media.
Media groups were forced to go to court to secure the release of search warrants seen as key to the case — warrants, which were eventually heavily redacted — and police and Crown prosecutors were criticized for a perceived lack of transparency.
In spite of the passing of Bill S-231 regarding the Journalistic Sources Protection Act (JSPA), introduced to amend the Canada Evidence Act and the Criminal Code when it came to the protection of journalistic sources, it has been very difficult for journalistic associations to press authorities to uphold the principles of that ruling. The JSPA was introduced in 2017. However, it remains to be seen how this legislation will be applied, and how authorities will commit to upholding its principles.
The legislation was first used successfully by CBC investigative reporter Marie-Maude Denis in September 2019. She had been ordered to reveal confidential sources after she investigated a Quebec politician who had been charged with fraud and bribery. However, Canada's Supreme Court ruled in her favor, going against an earlier disclosure order from Quebec's Superior Court.
In July 2019, the Ontario Superior Court — following an earlier Supreme Court ruling — deemed that Makuch must hand over background documentation for a terrorism case being pursued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
The ruling was deemed an attack on press freedom and a grave precedent.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, which have erupted in the U.S. over police violence, a newfound racial reckoning has arisen in Canadian newsrooms. Several journalists belonging to minority groups have expressed dismay at the existing cultures within their own newsrooms.
As protests by Wet'suwet'en Indigenous leaders over a gas pipeline in British Columbia erupted in clashes, journalists reported being intimidated by police who had set up a perimeter at the scene. Some said they were stopped from documenting the arrests of protesters and were threatened with arrest themselves. After media pressure, the police later agreed to allow media greater access to a so-called exclusion zone.
Media outlets report increasing instances in which authorities request publication bans on behalf of witnesses at trials under Section 486.31, which allows a ban when "the judge or justice is of the opinion that the order is in the interest of the proper administration of justice."
Media groups in Regina are opposing a ban in an attempted murder case which would prohibit publication of both the accused and victim identities, due to familial relationship. The ban was sought because the "victim believes that publication of her name will impact her reputation and the reputation of her business in the community."
The decline in readership of Canadian printed press continues to reach never-imagined levels, leading to the loss of many jobs in the sector. The online media, meanwhile, has yet to find and strengthen new ways of delivering content, using reasonable income strategies.
One key exception to these financial woes has been the emergence of several small, yet strong, bi-weekly ethnic community publications. Rather than showing losses, a number have managed to remain competitive via localized community coverage, often with not more than three employees.