Mr. Chairman and members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I am pleased to appear today on behalf of the Barreau du Québec to discuss Bill C-426. I want to thank the Committee for inviting us to take part in this important discussion.
The Barreau du Québec has had an interest in the question of protection of journalistic sources and journalists' testimony for several decades now. In 1988, in a brief prepared in response to a policy proposal aimed at amending the Loi sur la presse du Québec, the Barreau du Québec suggested provisions intended to set parameters regarding the testimony of journalists, seizures and searches of journalistic materials and also to protect journalistic sources. It supported specific principles: the free flow of information must be ensured by protecting journalistic activity; the public interest justifies the protection of journalists' confidential sources of information; it is in the public interest for justice to be done and material evidence providing for fair resolution of litigation or conclusion of an inquiry to be available.
Consequently, there is a need to seek the appropriate balance between those two sides of the public interest: the free flow of information, on the one hand, and fair resolution of a dispute or conclusion of an investigation or inquiry, on the other. A court would seem to be the only appropriate forum for ensuring that there is that balance.
The Barreau du Québec's recommendations included: maintaining the rule regarding the compellability of journalists, at the same time limiting their testimony to only those cases where they could play a material role and where it had been demonstrated that evidence of the facts could not be secured by other reasonable means.
Another recommendation was to prohibit disclosure of seized journalistic material likely to reveal the identity of a confidential source, even if the content was of material importance, unless it could be established that the public interest required that the source's identity be disclosed.
Finally, it was suggested that a publication/dissemination presumption be established, by means of the simple filing of a journal or video-audio tape, in order to avoid the need for multiple testimony by journalists for the sole purpose of establishing that the information was published or disseminated. We note that the bill tabled by the member for Marc-Aurèle Fortin, Mr. Serge Ménard, reflects the spirit of those recommendations.
Also, in May of 1990, the Barreau du Québec participated in the development and signature of a memorandum of understanding with the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, the Fédération nationale des communications and the Conseil de presse du Québec. That MOU laid out a framework for the process, as well as certain principles that the signatories defined as follows:
1. the need for legislative intervention as regards the testimony of journalists and seizure of journalistic material is a function of the public's interest in journalists' retaining access to all sorts of information;
2. it is also in the public's interest that justice be done, that conclusive evidence leading to fair resolution of litigation or the conclusion of an inquiry or investigation be available;
3. it is the journalistic activity, based on which the right to freedom of the press is exercised, rather than the individuals who engage in that activity, that needs to be protected, in order to ensure that the public has access to comprehensive information with respect to all matters on which citizens are asked to express an opinion;
4. it is possible, without granting privileges to journalists who must, like all other members of the public, continue to be compellable witnesses, to pass legislation that preserves the conditions under which a journalist must exercise his or her profession, while at the same time respecting the imperatives associated with the administration of justice.
This MOU contains a legislative proposal that lays out the circumstances in which a journalist's testimony may be used. Some of the points raised are as follows:
1. In the case of testimony dealing with facts gleaned by journalists in carrying out their duties, but which were neither published nor disseminated, such testimony should be limited to only those cases where it is of material importance to the resolution of litigation, or where it has been demonstrated that evidence of the facts cannot be secured by any other means;
3. in the case of testimony involving disclosure of a confidential source of information, journalists should not divulge the identity of the source, even if disclosure is of critical importance to the resolution of litigation, unless the court believes that the public interest requires that the source's identity be revealed: in such cases, the judge will have to render a decision based on both facets of the public interest—namely, resolution of the litigation and freedom of access to the information; in establishing the appropriate balance, the court should also consider all the consequences of the journalist's testimony, particularly for sources themselves, and immediately intervene for the purposes of weighing the two dimensions of the public interest when a party, or the journalist who is being asked to testify as to his or her confidential sources, fails to oppose it.
5. in the case of journalistic material that has already been published or disseminated, that a publication or dissemination presumption be established, through the simple filing of a journal or video audio/tape [...]
Once again, these recommendations are echoed in the proposed provisions of Bill C-426.
The Barreau du Québec believes that this bill fosters the free flow of information, by preserving the right to a fair trial, which are two fundamental rights. Indeed, journalists must be able to freely collect all information that is relevant in conveying news to the public. Also, persons appearing before a court of law are entitled to aduce any and all evidence that allows them to defend themselves.
The bill establishes the principle that journalists cannot be compelled to disclose in court their unpublished documents, unless they are of material importance to resolving litigation or cannot be introduced in evidence by any other means. In cases where the identity of a confidential source is at stake, the judge should ensure that disclosure is in the public interest, considering the outcome of the litigation, the need for the free flow of information, and also the impact on the source of disclosure of his or her identity.
Justice La Forest of the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Radio-Canada v. Lessard that freedom of the press is critical in a free society and includes the right to disseminate news, information and opinions. Information collection could be seriously hindered in many cases if the government had unreasonably easy access to information in the possession of the media. The press should not be turned into a police investigation service. The fear that police could gain easy access to a reporter's notes could represent a hindrance for the press in terms of information collection.
Therefore, the Barreau du Québec believes that this legislation is an appropriate response to the repeated request made by signatories of the 1990 MOU in terms of providing a legislative solution that would establish appropriate parameters for the use of a journalist's testimony, as well as protecting journalistic sources.
Thank you. We are now available to answer your questions.