A judge has granted CWA Canada and its coalition partners permission to intervene in the legal fight between VICE Media and the RCMP over a journalist’s right to protect sources.
“This is an initial victory,” said President Martin O’Hanlon. “The big battle lies ahead” when the case is heard in February by the Ontario Court of Appeal.
VICE is appealing an Ontario Superior Court ruling that upheld a production order issued by the Mounties against journalist Ben Makuch to hand over all communications between him and an alleged ISIS fighter.
The media company has launched protectpressfreedom.ca, a multi-platform campaign to raise awareness about the case. Canadians will be encouraged to sign a petition to Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale and RCMP Commissioner Robert Paulson, asking them to drop demands for the release of Makuch’s private material and correspondence with sources.
VICE argues the ruling will have a “detrimental chilling effect on the practice of journalism in Canada” by undermining the independence of news outlets and compromising the trust between journalists and their sources.
“If the ruling stands,” said O’Hanlon, “it would be bad news for journalism and for democracy. Sources, including whistleblowers, would be far less likely to talk to journalists knowing that they could be tracked down by police.
“The result? Canadians would be blocked from important information and stories about matters of vital public interest, including personal freedom and national security.”
O’Hanlon said the media is not, nor should it ever be, an arm of the state. “As journalists, we must fight any attempt by anyone, especially authorities, to interfere with freedom of the press.”
He said that was why CWA Canada and its largest Local, the Canadian Media Guild, which represents VICE employees across the country, joined the coalition to intervene in this case. Others include the CBC, APTN, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), the Canadian Association of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.
“As a media union,” said O’Hanlon, “we will speak out loudly to protect freedom of expression and the role of a free press as a pillar of democracy.”
Tom Henheffer, CJFE’s executive director, said the protectpressfreedom.ca campaign is “crucial to defending press freedom … Canadians will lose our free and independent press if journalists lose the ability to protect their sources. We need Canadians to stand up and let our government and police forces know that we won’t allow this blatant attack on free expression.”
O’Hanlon said that “police have an important job to do in protecting us from crime, whether domestic or international. But they cannot expect journalists to do that job for them. That would undermine our democracy and move us toward a police state.”