Madam Speaker, there are a few thoughts that come to mind right away when we are debating Bill C-231, and one of those thoughts is reflecting on Arnold Chan, and some of the things he advocated for were to bring people and parties together in terms of how we can improve things if we work together. The bill going through the committee process demonstrated just that, where we were able to take a piece of legislation and improve it, with individuals from different parties working together and ultimately seeing amendments brought forward, which has improved the legislation we are debating here today.
Freedom of the press is something we should never ever take for granted. We understand it is a fundamental pillar to good governance, to the whole issue of democracy. When I was first elected in 1988, I quickly found out the important relationship between the media and politicians. I will not go over the stories, but there were some embarrassing moments. At that time I may have had some different thoughts about the media, but I can honestly say today—with the experience I have gained over the years as a parliamentarian, whether inside the Manitoba legislature or here in the House of Commons—how important it is that we have an independent press, a press that feels it has the freedom to do what is necessary to ensure that there is a higher sense of accountability through the media on a wide variety of issues, whether it is within the political realm or any other realm on which media representatives will report.
I know when the issue first surfaced—if we were to narrow it down, and it has already been referred to—it was an incident where police officers in Quebec obtained warrants to monitor the cell phones of a fairly well known and respected journalist and a number of others. The journalist who garnered a great deal of attention was Patrick Lagacé. There was an instant reaction from coast to coast to coast that something was wrong. It did not take long for things to come together, whether it was inside the House of Commons or outside in different communities that realized this action was a serious offence against a profession that we need to ensure has a sense of independence and the ability to protect its sources.
My colleague across the way said he was a journalist for 20 years, and I am sure he speaks from experience in terms of how important those sources are. I cannot say how many times I have had a journalist come to me and ask what I would share off the record. Sometimes it is important to have those off-the-record discussions to give some depth on the issue at hand, whatever it might be. We should always be careful if we go off the record, but we find incredibly good reporters who want to be better informed and have a better sense of what is taking place behind the story.
Equally, when we look at some of the issues that are so critically important for the public to become aware of, the sources of information that make the public aware do need to be protected.
A vast majority of Canadians recognize the value of a free press. We should never take it for granted, and the Prime Minister makes sure that direction comes from the government through the different ministries and that direction is given in the mandate letters that are issued to the ministers. In the mandate letter issued to the Minister of Justice, the Prime Minister tasked the minister with ensuring that the rights of Canadians are protected and that the guarantees set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are respected. The minister recognizes that freedom of the press is fundamental, that it is a Canadian value as stated in the charter. Moreover, in the spring of this year, during question period here in the House, the Prime Minister himself made a fairly clear statement indicating that the government strongly believes in the protection of journalistic sources. It should surprise no one that our government understands the importance of this issue.
We saw good work done by the standing committee. It reflected on the previous debate, reviewed some of the incidents that have occurred, including the one that I cited earlier, and came up with ways to improve the system. That is the way I look at Bill S-231.
I applaud the actions of those individuals whom I have named and the many whom I have not named, because as I have indicated, we should never take those fundamental issues for granted. We do need to stand guard and protect our democracy, our free press, those fundamental pillars that ultimately made Canada the great country that it is.
Journalism and the way the media reports events have greatly changed. I make reference to the days when I was first elected. I can remember sitting in the Manitoba legislature and looking into the press gallery, where I could see representatives from all the different mainstream media. There were three reporters from the Winnipeg Free Press and two from the CBC. CTV had a reporter there. Even Global had a permanent reporter there. There was also a reporter from the Winnipeg Sun. Other media outlets were also there. Back then there was no blogging, no Internet, and no social media.
I appreciate the member's discussion about what a lot of people question: what is a journalist? Today, with issues like fake news and so forth, there is a great deal of concern about that. I appreciate the member across the way recognizing that. We recognize that journalism is an honourable profession in this legislation, a profession with high standards, a profession that is the main source of income for its practitioners. To me it is also important for a journalist to be employed by a main media outlet. These are important things. We need to recognize that there is a difference between CTV National News and Joe Blow on some blog claiming to be a journalist.
I appreciate the debate that we have had here today and I look forward to an ongoing debate on the issue.