Thank you, Mr. Chair.
What a pleasure to be here with you again, a year after our time together on the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying.
Colleagues, good afternoon and welcome.
I am very honoured and proud to be appearing before you today as the member sponsoring the bill in the House of Commons, as well as a former journalist.
Mr. Chair, let me pay my respects to our colleagues from the Senate: Senator Claude Carignan, who worked so hard, so fast, and so well, with the support of colleagues like Hon. André Pratte, and all the other people in the Senate who worked to table this important piece of legislation.
As far as I am concerned, this bill is very correct, because it respects every aspect of our society.
To begin with, Bill S-231 correctly defines what a journalist is, in my view. The underlying principle is the protection of the journalistic source, not the journalist. That may seem like an obvious distinction because journalists make mistakes, like everyone else, but sources wishing to come forward with information must be protected. That is what this bill seeks to achieve.
One of the bill's many merits is the fact that, going forward, only superior court judges would be allowed to determine whether investigations pursuant to search warrants could proceed. Experience has unfortunately shown that they were sometimes issued too hastily by peace officers. In the case of Montreal's police force, the SPVM, such requests were granted 98% of the time.
The bill also reverses the burden of proof and ensures that the execution of a warrant relating to a journalist is truly the last resort.
A few of my colleagues may recall that in Quebec, in the last month, it was a real turmoil situation for journalists.
This past October, we found out that journalist Patrick Lagacé had been the target of 24 surveillance warrants by police in recent years.
To give you an idea of the type of individual we are talking about, I will tell you that Mr. Lagacé is a seasoned journalist with over 20 years of experience and recognized by all Quebecers as an established journalist. If he were in the military, he would be active in all three forces. As a journalist, he works in television, print, and radio, and has a daily column. He is a seasoned journalist who was put under police surveillance, further to a warrant, 24 times, and that obviously raised considerable concern in Quebec.
More revelations followed. It came out that some 15 journalists in Quebec had also been put under police surveillance; they were all very experienced and worked mainly in investigative journalism. Patrick Lagacé, Vincent Larouche, Marie-Maude Denis, Alain Gravel, Isabelle Richer, Éric Thibault, Denis Lessard, André Cédilot, Nicolas Saillant, Félix Séguin, Monic Néron, Joël-Denis Bellavance, Gilles Toupin, Daniel Renaud, and Fabrice de Pierrebourg had all been the subject of a police investigation by the Sûreté du Québec, SPVM, or RCMP.
We see Bill S-231 as a fair and balanced response to an intolerable situation.
In my final notes, Mr. Chair, let me just remind you that 45 years and one day ago, a newspaper named The Washington Post published a small article about a burglary that happened in the Democratic Party headquarters in Washington. The Democratic Party headquarters was situated in a building named Watergate. Two years later, all the world recognized what happened there, and it also recognized the importance of whistle-blowers. This is what this bill wants to protect.