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A Note from the Editor

Hey JT, Thanks for the Help with the Far Right, Now Maybe Keep Our Reporter Out of Jail

We appreciate Justin Trudeau’s defence of press freedom, but he could go a lot further.

by Josh Visser
May 25 2018, 5:14pm

Justin Trudeau and VICE reporter Ben Makuch | Images via CP. 

Wednesday was an unusual day for VICE Canada. In the morning, our lawyers were fighting in the Supreme Court of Canada to keep one of our reporters out of jail for doing his job. In the afternoon, our office in Montreal was invaded by a bunch of extreme-right thugs pissed off we had the nerve to write about them.

For this, we’ve received a tremendous amount of support from press freedom organizations, our competitors, and many others. It’s truly appreciated. We’ve also received kind words from many Canadian politicians, most notably Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“My government will always support and defend the right of media to do their job,” Trudeau said yesterday. “The incursion into VICE's offices yesterday is something I find alarming and it is an example of intimidation of the media that is absolutely unacceptable."

Absolutely, 100 percent agreed, thank you, JT.

But…your government is currently fighting VICE Canada to access reporter Ben Makuch’s materials that were used for stories about an ISIS fighter back in 2014.

This too is an attack on press freedom that we find “absolutely unacceptable.”

The prime minister says his government “will always support and defend the right of media to do their job” but how is that not a conditional statement, when he’s been silent on Makuch’s case?

As any journalist knows, “I can’t say anything, it’s before the courts” is an easy way out.

This isn't the time for equivocation, the prime minister should have a moral obligation to protect journalists.

If the prime minister truly wanted to support press freedom he could come out and make a much stronger statement and condemn any actions that stop journalists from performing their jobs—including actions taken by the government and its police forces. (Shout out to APTN’s Justin Brake, who is facing criminal charges stemming from a story he was covering.)

To be fair, the Liberal government did pass a bill last fall to strengthen protection of anonymous sources. But also, to give credit where credit is due, that bill came from the Conservatives, Claude Carignan in the Senate, and former journalist Gérard Deltell in the House of Commons.

That bill also came too late for Makuch’s case, which has now dragged on for three years, putting an incredible amount of personal stress on him.

So again, we appreciate the support, Mr. Prime Minister, you’ve said some nice things. But on the other hand, they are empty words if the state is preparing to jail a reporter because police want to use him as a shortcut in one of their investigations.

We’ve been dealing with neo-Nazis for years, but it’s a government-sanctioned attack on press freedom that worries me.

Follow Josh Visser on Twitter.

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