On October 4, 2017, the federal government passed 3rd reading and adoption of Bill S-231, An Act to amend the Canada Evidence Act and the Criminal Code (protection of journalistic sources).
This bill, introduced by the Conservative Party, allows journalists to better protect their sources. The only person who can lift that protection is a judge of a superior court of criminal jurisdiction, after being convinced that a criminal offence outweighs the journalist’s right to privacy in the collection and dissemination of information. Previously, Justices of the Peace could issue a search warrant.
“Journalists play a vital role in our democracy,” said Hélène Laverdière, NDP. “Parliament is a fundamental democratic institution, but I believe that journalism is, as well.”
She continued, “In order to do their job, however, they must be able to work freely, without undue interference. Unfortunately, we have seen a very troubling trend in that regard. There have been some disturbing examples, like the ones reported in Quebec, specifically in Montreal involving Patrick Lagacé and Joël-Denis Bellavance, but we have also seen a broader, long-term trend that should be setting off alarm bells among those who care about our democracy.”
This bill will allow journalists to better protect their sources, who often have risk a serious loss if their involvement were uncovered. When sources do not feel protected, they keep quiet.
Through this bill, a journalist could refuse to disclose information if she believes that the confidentiality of his source would be compromised.
“In fact,” noted Laverdière, “the onus is reversed. Now it will be up to the police to prove that the information they are looking for is more important for public safety than the right to protect sources. That is a key component.”
Conservative Steven Blaney echoed this sentiment. “In a healthy democracy, the media function as a check and balance and journalists do enjoy press freedom.”
“The amended bill we are proposing will provide better protection for confidential journalistic sources, in the interest of all Canadians,” said Mona Fortier, Liberal, “and it deserves everyone’s support.”
To read what other politicians have said about the bill during the House of Commons debate, click here.
It was noted that in this shifting world of information, the definition of a journalist is also changing. But again, it will be up to a judge of a superior court to decide if the individual in question meets that definition, not the police, or a justice of the peace, or (god forbid) a politician.
The bill was first introduced by Senator Claude Carnigan (affiliated with the Conservative Party of Canada) on November 22, 2016, and was passed unanimously by the Senate (December 14, 2016) and the House of Commons (October 4, 2017). It now awaits Royal Assent, which is given by the Governor General.
- Open Parliament.ca: Bill S-231
- LegisInfo About Bill S-231
- Third Reading Bill S-231 (the actual Bill)
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