The Liberal government will announce they will be supporting proposed legislation aimed at protecting the identities of journalists’ confidential sources — just so long as legislators approve their plans to put further limits on the bill.
The legislation would, if adopted, protect journalists from search warrants and surveillance from police and investigators. It would be Canada’s first set of journalistic “shield laws” on the books.
Even if a judge does grant the request, any information that could identify a source would be sealed.
A senior government source told VICE News they want to see changes to the bill that would, they say, protect national security investigations.
Under Bill S-231, titled the Journalistic Sources Protection Act, security agencies and police would only be able to get a search warrant or a production order targeting a journalist, or their source material, if a judge is satisfied that they have no other “reasonable” way to get the information and if the importance of the investigation outweighs the journalist’s right to privacy.
They would also have to meet the same criteria to be able to reproduce or make copies of the documents. Even if a judge does grant the request, any information that could identify a source would be sealed.
The bill would only allow criminal or federal courts to issue those sorts of warrants or orders, and would give journalists and media outlets the right to appeal.
The Liberals will be looking to amend the legislation to ensure the bill wouldn’t tie security agencies’ hands in emergency situations and to clarify that the bill applies to a wide variety of journalists — not just those employed by larger outlets.
Canadian journalists have long called for exactly these sorts of protections, which are common in several American states and in Europe.
“We believe the amendments we will propose will be reasonable and should be able to be part of a constructive debate with the other parties, as well as the senators,” said the official, speaking on background, adding that the justice department has consulted Conservative Senator Claude Carignan, who proposed the bill.
“We’re expecting the discussion to be carried forward relatively well.”
Canadian journalists have long called for exactly these sorts of protections, which are common in several American states and in Europe. But revelations have spurred a need for exactly this sort of protection.
The bill was drafted in response to revelations that Montreal police had spied on 10 journalists in Quebec to find the sources of compromising leaks.
One of them was La Presse journalist Patrick Lagacé, who found out that Montreal police had received permission from the courts to look at his phone records, tap his phone, and trigger the GPS on his phone to track his whereabouts.
In a separate battle, VICE News is challenging an RCMP production order for screenshots of reporter Ben Makuch’s communications with Farah Shirdon, an alleged ISIS fighter.
Debate on the bill has already begun in the House of Commons, with members from the Conservative, Liberals, and NDP all speaking in support of the bill.
For it to become law, however, it will almost certainly need support from the government house leader, who can help marshall legislation through the House of Commons. If the Liberals do back the bill, as the Toronto Star first reported on Thursday, it seems likely the legislation will make it into law before 2018.
That is, assuming the Senate approves the government’s amendments.