A Quebec senator has introduced a bill he calls the first concrete legislative measure in Canada to protect journalistic sources following a spate of cases in which reporters have come under police surveillance.
Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan says he was compelled to table the private member's bill after learning that Montreal police obtained warrants to monitor the iPhone of La Presse journalist Patrick Lagacé.
The Quebec provincial police force has also recently acknowledged tracking the communications of a handful of other journalists.
"It's a fundamental principle," Carignan said Tuesday. "It's very important to protect the journalist, but also the whistleblower."
The bill would amend the Canada Evidence Act to allow a journalist to refuse to disclose information that would identify — or likely identify — a journalistic source.
The only exception would be if the document could not be obtained by any other reasonable means and the public interest in the administration of justice outweighed the interest in preserving the source's confidentiality.
The one requesting disclosure of the journalist's source would have the burden of proving the case met these conditions.
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The bill would also change the Criminal Code so that only a judge presiding in a superior court of criminal jurisdiction could issue a warrant for surveillance of a journalist.
Similarly, the judge would have to be satisfied there was no other way the information could reasonably be obtained and that the public interest outweighed the journalist's right to privacy.
In addition, the information gathered by police through a judicial warrant would be sealed by the court. A notice would then be sent to the relevant journalist, who would have 10 days to oppose the officer's request if the reporter believed the information could identify an anonymous source.
If the journalist opposed disclosure, the onus would be on the Crown to prove that the information was crucial to an ongoing investigation.
Carignan said the bill would bolster existing protections.
In two key 2010 rulings, the Supreme Court of Canada did not create blanket constitutional protection for journalists, saying they are a ''heterogeneous and ill-defined group of writers and speakers.''
Instead, the court spelled out a four-point test that allows judges to weigh competing public interests on a case-by-case basis.
Something is happening in the
Something is happening in the Senate - maybe the influx of supposedly independent members has awakened others, but whatever the reason, it is about time. A Senate committee passed an amendment to the tax bill recently that takes away the huge breaks for those warning $90,000 - $200,000 and gives them to those in the $45,000 - $90,000 bracket, while increasing taxes in the higher group, which they say will make the changes revenue neutral - as Trudeau promised before the election, only to decide it would cost something like 1.4 billion per year. Bill Morneau's comment was that he liked it better before it was changed... The whole Senate must vote on the changes, before they become law. Bravo Senators, for waking up and starting to act on behalf of the country, rather than kowtowing to the HoC. Keep it up.