rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Supreme Court to hear VICE News case on source protection

Photo: Ben Makuch/Facebook

On November 30, 2017 the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear a landmark case for press freedom in Canada. VICE News successfully sought leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that VICE News reporter Ben Makuch must hand over all communications between him and an ISIS fighter to the RCMP.

This is a big deal: the Court only agrees to hear around 8 to 12 per cent of cases that apply for leave in any given year. By agreeing to hear the case, the Supreme Court of Canada will have the opportunity to overturn a dangerous precedent and ensure that press freedom and the integrity of journalism in Canada are protected.

"We are encouraged that the Court has agreed to hear the case, which will be crucial to defending press freedom in Canada," said Duncan Pike, Co-Director, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE). "If journalists cannot protect their sources, then the information they provide will dry up, leaving Canadians uninformed and democracy impoverished."

CJFE will be seeking leave to intervene before the Supreme Court shortly, which will require court approval to proceed. A legal intervention is a procedure that allows an outside party to join ongoing litigation, usually because the outcome of the case will affect the rights of others besides the original parties. A coalition of civil liberties organizations intervened before the Ontario Court of Appeal in support of VICE Media's appeal, including CJFE, CBC, Canadian Media Lawyers' Association, Canadian Association of Journalists, Canadian Media Guild, Reporters Without Borders, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Centre for Free Expression, The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Last year CJFE and VICE Media Canada joined forces with a coalition of civil liberties organizations to launch protectpressfreedom.ca, a multi-platform campaign to raise awareness about VICE News Journalist and Cyberwar Host Ben Makuch's fight to protect his sources from RCMP interference. CJFE, together with a coalition of media, labour and non-governmental organizations, held a rally in support of VICE News reporter Ben Makuch as he appeared in court on February 6, 2017, making a principled stand to protect press freedom. The rally took place outside the Toronto courthouse in which he was appearing.

In October 2015, the RCMP served Makuch and VICE Canada with a production order seeking any notes and all records of communications with alleged ISIS terrorist Shirdon. VICE Canada has actively fought the production order over the last two years before seeking leave to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

The protection of sources is a foundational principle of journalism, making crucial reporting like Makuch's coverage of ISIS possible in the first place. Forcing Makuch to hand over his notes to the RCMP, or go to jail, makes it less likely that sources will be willing to speak with journalists. The RCMP's production order is a simple fishing expedition which will do little to make Canadians secure while making it harder for Makuch, VICE, and all Canadian journalists to bring stories of national importance to the public.

Interestingly, the RCMP has acknowledged as much in a recently revealed court document. The original production order, written by RCMP Constable Harinder Grewal, states, "It is a reasonable inference that this news organization would not be able to stage this kind of interview with a purported member of a terrorist group if they had a reputation for immediately handing original evidence to the police."

Makuch's work has deepened public understanding of a matter of urgent national importance. As the RCMP admits, this work could be made impossible if the ruling is allowed to stand.

CJFE has a long history of intervening in cases that affect free expression and free press issues in Canada, including defamation and libelprotection of sourceshate speech legislation, and access to information.

Note: Tom Henheffer, VICE Canada's Head of News and Digital, is a member of CJFE's Board of Directors

Photo: Ben Makuch/Facebook

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. 

Thank you for reading this story...

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all. But media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our only supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help.

If everyone who visits rabble and likes it chipped in a couple of dollars per month, our future would be much more secure and we could do much more: like the things our readers tell us they want to see more of: more staff reporters and more work to complete the upgrade of our website.

We’re asking if you could make a donation, right now, to set rabble on solid footing in 2017.

Make a donation.Become a monthly supporter.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.