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Canada strengthens the protection of journalists’ sources

26 October 2017

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have welcomed a new Canadian law protecting confidential sources of journalists. The law was approved on 18 October and has also been welcomed by the NUJ.

The law strengthens the protection of journalists' sources and the IFJ has joined it affiliates in Canada - UNIFOR and CWA - in welcoming this legislation that is of a great importance for the journalism community, their sources and the public at large.

Both the House of Commons and the Canadian Senate voted in favor of the Journalistic Source Protection Act, Bill S-231, which despite some loopholes, introduces important safeguards for whistleblowers who inform journalists about cases of corruption and information that is in the public interest.

The new law shifts the burden of proof in applications involving journalists and police services which concern the importance of revealing or protecting a confidential source. According to the law, a journalist is no longer obliged to convince a court to protect the confidentiality of their sources.

Instead, police services will have to demonstrate why there is a need to disclose the identity of a journalistic source. If police officers do not find other means to obtain information, a judge of the higher court will decide whether the police has a right to ask for the journalists’ source’s identity.

In cases where the judge issues the warrant or production order to disclose the source, a journalist has 10 days to oppose the order and explain why the confidentiality of the source must be protected.

However, journalists’ organisations point to one major criticism of the law in that some categories of journalists will fall outside of this new protection.

Anthony Bellanger, IFJ general secretary, said:

"These changes in Canadian law are of great importance for the journalism community, their sources and the public at large. The protection of journalistic sources is a core journalistic principle enshrined in our declaration of principles. It is a prerequisite to a free and independent press and ensures that journalists have access to information, including the ones that reveal cases of corruption and government wrongdoings.
It is in the citizens’ interests that the protection of journalists’ sources is truly respected. We welcome this big step forward in Canada."

Martin O’Hanlon, president of media union CWA Canada, hailed it as a great day for journalism and democracy.

"We have been waiting a very long time for the government to respect and protect the vitally important relationship between journalists and sources. While this law does not provide absolute protection, it is a huge step forward. It puts the onus on authorities to convince the courts that compelling a journalist to disclose confidential information outweighs the public interest of protecting the identity of a source."

Unifor Media director, Howard Law, said:

"The new shield law is far from perfect, but certainly worth celebrating. It sends an important signal that the media has vital role to play in a democratic society, and that press freedom is an essential part of what makes us all free.
"New shield laws do not address the fundamental challenges to the survival of our media outlets, however. Our government has been given many option to deal with this, but has not acted."

Access the IFJ declaration of principles on the conduct of journalists.

Tags: , surveillance, ethics, code of conduct, ifj, protection of sources, investigatory powers act, investigatory powers bill, police, whistleblowers