Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity today to speak to Bill S-231, an act to amend the Canada Evidence Act and the Criminal Code (protection of journalistic sources).
Before I begin my speech, and in light of the little exchange we just heard, I still feel compelled to congratulate the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent. On the whole, I believe he and I agree on the issue of the protection of journalistic sources. Regarding the past 10 years, I am sure we will have other opportunities to discuss the issue, as we do when other subjects come up, but I still tend to agree with the member for Gatineau.
That being said, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Senator Claude Carignan, who did truly phenomenal work, for his diligence in this file and for all the work he did on Bill S-231. I think that is worth mentioning.
The overall objective of the bill is laudable, which is to ensure that the protection of journalistic sources is given due consideration whenever they are at issue in Canadian courts. As we all know, this bill was tabled in response to recent events involving the use of investigative tools targeting journalists; in particular, revelations that police in Quebec had obtained warrants to monitor the cellphones of several journalists.
Let me be perfectly clear. Freedom of the press is a fundamental Canadian value, critical to Canadians and to Canadian democracy. I think we can all agree on that. That is why it is enshrined in our Constitution under our freedom of expression rights in section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Our government is firmly committed to defending it assiduously.
Last week, the Prime Minister himself acknowledged the importance of protecting journalistic sources to Canada's democracy, saying:
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, now in its 35th year, established the freedom of the press as a fundamental freedom. Journalists start conversations, shine light on stories that would otherwise not be told, and give Canadians the facts they need to engage in public debate and shape events around them. A free and open press is crucial to an informed and engaged citizenry, which is at the heart of a healthy democracy.
We can find many examples of the importance of freedom of the press in Canadian society. Just last week, the 68th National Newspaper Awards honoured the best and brightest in the field in Canada.
The awards honoured, for example, reportage on the deadly opioid crisis across Canada, the tragedy of soldiers and veterans who died by suicide after serving in Afghanistan, an exposé of unsavoury practices fuelling the Lower Mainland real estate boom in B.C., the 50 years of mercury leaching in northwestern Ontario, the miscarriage of justice that resulted in a mentally ill Canadian ending up in one of America's most notorious prisons, and the investigation into the death of a four-year-old first nations foster child.
These fine examples of journalism provided citizens the information they needed to fully participate in democracy.
There is no doubt that some of them likely used confidential sources.
On that note, Bill S-231 proposes changes to the Canada Evidence Act and the Criminal Code, by creating special regimes to protect confidential journalistic sources. The Canada Evidence Act proposals would create a unique regime applicable any time the media wish to protect a journalistic source. This new regime attempts to codify the common law developed and interpreted through several Supreme Court of Canada cases. The bill effectively elevates journalistic source protection to a class privilege. It would also place the onus on the person who seeks disclosure of the information instead of the person seeking to protect the information, which is currently the case.
The Criminal Code proposals address the way in which investigative tools, such as search warrants and production orders can be obtained or executed when they involve a journalist.
Although the purpose of these proposals is to protect journalistic sources, the procedure would apply every time a journalist is the subject of an investigative tool. The bill also proposes a triage procedure that requires the gathered evidence to be sealed and a court review before the information can be disclosed to police.
The bill proposes that only a superior court judge shall authorize the use of an investigative tool on a journalist.
Many of these proposals seem like excellent improvements to the protection of journalistic sources, and our government is currently studying them closely. In doing so, there are several issues that I think we must closely consider.
We must look at how it seeks to codify the robust common law protections in this area. We should also consider that the regime would apply equally even in cases where the journalists themselves are suspected of criminal activity.
Additionally, I have some questions about the bill's provisions that would provide that the new procedures override all other laws in Canada, including those that relate to privacy and national security. We should ask whether override clauses are an appropriate tool here, as they necessarily create conflicts between statutes and can have unintended consequences as a result.
As some of my colleagues already know, the protection of journalistic sources afforded by common law and the Constitution are rigorous. For that reason, we should try to ensure that this bill follows common law as much as possible in order to avoid unintended consequences.
We must ensure that we do not unintentionally undermine these protections and that changes to the law adequately strengthen the protection of journalistic sources.
As for the protection of journalistic sources in courtrooms, the Supreme Court of Canada, in Globe and Mail v. Canada and R. v. National Post, applied the criteria test established by Wigmore to determine whether a specific journalistic source should be protected.
The Wigmore test is applied on a case-by-case basis to determine whether a source of confidential information should be protected.
Under the Wigmore test, the courts will protect the confidential source when the following conditions are met, as I am sure most members know.
First, the communications must have originated in a confidence that they will not be disclosed; second, the element of confidentiality must be essential to the full and satisfactory maintenance of the relationship between the parties; third, the relationship must be one that, in the opinion of the community, ought to be carefully and continuously fostered; and fourth, the injury that would be caused to the relationship by the disclosure of the communications must be greater than the benefit it would provide for the correct disposal of the litigation.
This differs from a traditional class privilege such as solicitor-client privilege, which is a presumed privilege recognized by the courts. In a class privilege, once individuals have established that they are members of the class, the privilege automatically protects against disclosure of certain information, and exceptions are extremely narrow and limited.
The intent of Bill S-231 is to codify the rules that apply to journalists and their confidential sources. However, as members, and especially as members of the government, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that Bill S-231 does so appropriately. In other words, we must ensure that these new rules, once codified, will apply in pertinent cases.
I would now like to go back to the amendments proposed by Bill S-231, which relate to how investigative tools are issued and executed when they relate to journalists.
This aspect of the bill is most relevant to the circumstances emanating from Quebec that gave rise to the introduction of Bill S-231. Like journalistic source privilege in the courtroom context, the issue of investigative tools targeting journalists has also been reviewed by the Supreme Court of Canada.
In Canadian Broadcasting Corp. v. Lessard and Canadian Broadcasting Corp. v. New Brunswick, the court set out a number of factors to be considered any time an investigative tool is sought against a journalist, and these include whether or not the evidence can be obtained through any other means, whether or not the information was already public and whether the execution of the tool can be tailored so as to minimize its impact on the media.
However, the court also stated that factors that may be vital in assessing the reasonableness of one search may be irrelevant in another.
We must bear in mind these words of wisdom while we debate and study this bill, and we must also ask ourselves whether the courts have the flexibility to adequately respond to these pressing issues.
To conclude, I believe it is important that we look to ensure that journalists and their sources are provided appropriate protection, but we must ensure that any reforms enacted in this area do so in a way that builds on the common law and does not adversely undermine other important societal interests.
To close on a more pragmatic note, in the end, with regard to the protection of sources, the objective of the bill is quite commendable. However, the government continues to study the different amendments and the bill before us today.