Journalists and free speech advocates took their message of press freedom to Parliament Hill on Wednesday, calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to do more to protect journalists during what is being called a “watershed moment.”
The campaign comes amid revelations that 10 Quebec journalists were under surveillance by police who were attempting to find their sources, and as VICE prepares to fight a court order to hand over communications with a source to the RCMP.
“Source protection is crucial to our ability to do our jobs as journalists. It’s a fundamental tool of the trade that allows us to dig deep and hold the powerful accountable,” Ben Makuch, a VICE national security reporter, who has been ordered by an Ontario court to hand over Kik messenger chat logs with a suspected ISIS fighter, said in a press release.
“Mine is just one of many recent cases of the growing erosion of press freedom here in Canada. I’ve covered oppressive regimes across the world and the last opposition I thought I’d face in my ability to do my job would be here at home in Canada.”
Makuch, whose appeal will be heard in February 2017, was joined by Mohamed Fahmy, former Egyptian bureau chief for Al Jazeera English, who became an outspoken advocate for press freedom after being imprisoned in Cairo for over 400 days,
Fahmy urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to stand by journalists’ facing threats to press freedom in the same way he stood by him during his imprisonment in Egypt.
“The world views Canada as the pillar of democracy so let’s keep it this way,” Fahmy said.
La Presse reporter Patrick Lagacé, who recently found out his phone was tapped in Quebec in 2014, said that while the province seemed to be taking the issue seriously, he hoped the federal government would take a similar stance, pointing to remarks Trudeau made during the campaign that journalists in Canada must be respected.
“Now is the time to go beyond words and take action,” said Lagacé.
During Wednesday’s question period in Parliament, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair pressed Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to spell out what concrete steps the government would take to protect press freedom.
“The fact of the matter is, we are examining all of the federal safeguards in place, including the ministerial directives, to make sure that they are appropriate in all the circumstances to respect freedom of the press,” said Goodale, who invited journalists and lawyers to suggest how laws could be improved.
“Freedom of the press is a fundamental Canadian value, it is in the charter, and this government will defend it assiduously.”
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression has already outlined what it wants to see changed. The organization has called on the government to pass press shield laws, repeal surveillance provisions contained in bill C-13 and ensure that federal and provincial governments require prosecutors — not the police — to request any warrant for surveillance of journalists. It also wants judges to sign off on such warrants, instead of justices of the peace.
“This is a watershed moment, and one where Canada has the potential to be a global leader, or to further cripple the free press in our country,” said Tom Henheffer of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.