The non conformer's Canadian Weblog

May 8, 2010

No broad right to protect news sources in Canada

Top Court in Canada Limits Media on Sources New York Times – OTTAWA – Journalists do not have a constitutional right to protect the identities of their sources, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday.

Supreme Court will not give media an ‘absolute right’ to protect confidential National Post

Montreal Gazette – Vancouver Sun – AFP – The Associated Press
Common sense tell us all that even all News Reporters, Professional ones included now too,  News Media too, can be held for slander, wrongful, malicious reporting, writings.. even any person  now on the internet as well.. But still their Prosecution is not automatic the individual with the complaint now  generally still do have to pay and to go to court and prove their case openly as well.
No broad right to protect news sources: court    The Canadian Press  OTTAWA  The high court ruled Friday that journalists have no blanket right to shield confidential sources. One reason cited for the decision was the anarchic world of modern day information. The court ruled 8-1 against the National Post and former Post reporter Andrew McIntosh, who sought to quash a search warrant issued almost a decade ago as part of what became known as the Shawinigate affair. In finding there is no broad constitutional protection to shield sources, the justices said claims of immunity can be argued on a case-by-case basis. ”The law should and does accept that in some situations the public interest in protecting the secret source from disclosure outweighs other competing public interests – including criminal investigations,” Justice Ian Binnie wrote on the court’s behalf. ”In those circumstances, the courts will recognize an immunity against disclosure of sources to whom confidentiality has been promised.” But in the case at issue, Binnie said the needs of a police investigation trump confidentiality. He said the court recognizes there is a public interest in enabling journalists to protect the identity of confidential sources. But it has to be balanced against the competing interest of the police. Binnie wasn’t about to find a constitutional protection for journalists, noting that the term could include tweeters, bloggers and people standing on a corner shouting news at passersby. ”To throw a constitutional immunity around the interactions of such a heterogeneous and ill-defined group of writers and speakers and whichever ‘sources’ they deem worthy of a promise of confidentiality and on whatever terms they may choose to offer it . . . would blow a giant hole in law enforcement and other constitutionally recognized values such as privacy. He noted that lawyers and clients have a very strong legal shield, but lawyers are a different breed from journalists. For instance, he said there is the ”immense variety and degrees of professionalism (or the lack of it) of persons who now ‘gather’ and ‘publish’ news. ”In contrast to the legal profession, there is no formal accreditation to ‘license’ the practice of journalism and no professional organization (such as a law society) to regulate its members and attempt to maintain professional standards.” The ruling leaves Canadian journalists in the same boat as their colleagues in the United States and Britain, where there are no blanket constitutional protections for sources. Some states have their own shield laws, but they vary in how much they cover. Canadian journalists were generally pleased last December when the Supreme Court ruled that defamation and slander laws should be changed to give greater protection for communications on matters of public interest. It gave the media a stronger defence in libel cases. McIntosh had promised confidentiality for a source known only as X, who sent the reporter a document which was later denounced as a forgery. In 2000, McIntosh investigated links between then-prime minister Jean Chretien and the Grand-Mere Inn, a resort in his home riding. McIntosh reported that Chretien had called the Business Development Bank of Canada to promote a loan for the inn.  McIntosh subsequently received an envelope from X containing what appeared to be a 1997 internal loan document from the bank. It said a $615,000 loan to Grand-Mere allowed the company to pay an outstanding $23,000 debt to a Chretien family corporation.   The bank said the document was a forgery. McIntosh testified that X told him the document had arrived by mail anonymously and X forwarded it, believing it to be genuine. In 2001, the RCMP were called in. They wanted to test the document and envelope for DNA or fingerprints – which would likely have identified X. They obtained a search warrant and an assistance order. The order required the National Post to help find the document, which McIntosh said he had hidden in a safe place not in the newspaper’s offices. The newspaper went to court to fight the warrant and order. It’s not clear where the case stands, said Doug Kelly, editor-in-chief of the National Post. ”What happens now is we talk to our lawyers and our lawyers talk to the RCMP and they try to ascertain from the RCMP whether they are interested in continuing a nine-year old case.” McIntosh, who left the newspaper several years ago and splits his time between the United States and Canada, did not reply to emails seeking his reaction. Jacobsen said the Crown likely wants to go ahead, given the time and effort it spent going all the way to the Supreme Court. And, he said, McIntosh has few options if he’s asked to hand over the material. ”Ultimately, if he doesn’t do it he could be found in contempt. If he were in Canada and he was found in contempt he could end up having to go to jail.”

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