VICE Media’s legal fight with the RCMP over a journalist’s right to protect sources goes before the Supreme Court of Canada today.
Standing alongside VICE will be CWA Canada, the only union in a coalition of news outlets and journalist organizations that has been granted intervener status in the case.
A production order issued by the Mounties against VICE journalist Ben Makuch to hand over all communications between him and an alleged ISIS fighter was upheld by the Ontario Superior Court and the Ontario Court of Appeal.
CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon called the rulings “bad news for journalism and for democracy” and committed the union to continuing the fight to the highest court in the land.
“As a media union, we will speak out loudly to protect freedom of expression and the role of a free press as a pillar of democracy,” O’Hanlon said.
“Police have an important job to do in protecting us from crime, but they cannot expect journalists to do that job for them. The media is not, nor should it ever be, an arm of the state.”
The media union represents workers at VICE’s Canadian news operations through its biggest Local, the Canadian Media Guild.
“What makes this case different from a confidential source case is that it’s about material a journalist has gathered but keeps to him or herself and uses as the journalist sees fit in a story.”
Paul Schabas, counsel to intervener coalition
The coalition, which recently received approval to act as interveners, also includes the CBC, APTN, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Canadian Association of Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders.
Another case that could make its way to the Supreme Court is that of investigative journalist Marie-Maude Denis. Her employer, Radio-Canada, will appeal a Quebec Superior Court ruling from late March that orders her to reveal her source in a corruption trial.
In response to that ruling, O’Hanlon said: “It’s frustrating that this sort of thing continues to happen, especially with the passage of federal legislation in 2017 that recognizes the right of journalists to protect their sources.”
“It is vital for free speech and democracy that journalists guard the anonymity of their sources. If not, sources, including whistleblowers, will be far less likely to talk to journalists knowing that they could be identified and punished. The result? Canadians will be blocked from important information and stories about matters of vital public interest.”