A ruling today by the Ontario Court of Appeal that a VICE Media reporter must hand over his notes to the RCMP is “bad news for journalism and for democracy,” said CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon.
The media union, which represents workers at VICE’s Canadian news operations, was part of a coalition of groups that intervened in the legal fight between the media company and the police over a journalist’s right to protect sources.
“Police have an important job to do in protecting us from crime, but they cannot expect journalists do that job for them,” 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.
“This fight is not over.”
VICE had appealed 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 company said in a statement today it plans to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“Simply put, this isn’t over,” said VICE Canada president Ryan Archibald.
“The ruling fails to recognize the importance of journalistic source protection and threatens the integrity of journalism in Canada, forcing the essential investigative function of the press to be at the disposal of law enforcement,” said CJFE Executive Director Tom Henheffer. “If journalists cannot protect their sources, then the information they provide will dry up, leaving Canadians uninformed and democracy impoverished.”
The coalition urged the government to act quickly to amend the statutory framework governing the use of production orders to offer greater protection against a chilling effect on public interest reporting and free expression. They also called upon the RCMP to respect the independence and important societal role of journalists and withdraw its demands for the release of private material and correspondence with sources.