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Supreme Court of Canada to hear VICE press freedoms case

VICE reporter Ben Makuch is challenging the RCMP's demands to hand over materials on an accused ISIS militant he interviewed

by Rachel Browne
Nov 30 2017, 10:40am

Canada’s Supreme Court said on Thursday it will hear VICE Media’s appeal of a lower court ruling that ordered VICE News national security reporter Ben Makuch to give the RCMP communications he had with accused Islamic State terrorist for a series of stories he wrote in 2014.

It’s a case followed closely by civil liberties and press freedoms advocates for the impact it could have journalistic integrity in Canada.

“I’m personally very relieved that the case is going higher,” said Makuch. “I think this means that the courts are taking this very seriously.”

“There’s a lot of relief and happiness, but I know that this is still ongoing.”

Makuch published three articles in 2014 based on interviews with Farah Shirdon, a Calgary man who allegedly left Canada to fight alongside Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq. The RCMP eventually charged Shirdon in absentia with six terrorism-related offences, and obtained a production order demanding VICE Media and Makuch surrender any and all documents on their communications with Shirdon.

The company and Makuch tried to have that order quashed, but two lower court decisions upheld it. Makuch has fought the RCMP’s production order on the basis that journalists should not be an extension of law enforcement efforts, and that turning over communications would make sources hesitant to trust reporters over fears they could be given up to police.

Recent news reports citing the U.S. military say Shirdon was killed in coalition airstrikes in Iraq more than two years ago, but the Canadian government hasn’t said how that information would affect their decision to continue pursuing Makuch’s case.

This October, Parliament unanimously passed a press shield law that would, for first time, protect whistleblowers and confidential sources in Canada. The Journalistic Source Protection Act safeguards journalists and their sources from police interference and search warrants.

The law does not, however, apply in Makuch’s case. He and VICE Canada have been urging the government to drop the case.

“While the Government has made a commitment to freedom of the press by supporting this bill, they and the RCMP have a chance to back it up with real action by dropping the case against Ben Makuch and VICE Canada,” VICE Canada president Ryan Archibald said in a statement at the time. “They can do the right thing and show the world that Canada believes no journalist should face potential jail time for doing their job.”