Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this important bill. I wish to congratulate my Bloc Québécois colleague, the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who initiated this bill. One need only read it to realize that my colleague has been able to distill hundreds, even thousands, of pages of jurisprudence and case law into a few clauses. For that is the issue.
Bill C-426 does not grant a privilege to journalists, nor to the media. The bill, and particularly the section dealing with searches, protects journalistic activity. It clarifies and protects the most noble elements of journalistic activity, freedom of speech and the public's right to information, conditions which are essential for democracy.
In cases of wrongdoing or in any other action that causes harm or injustice, it is normal that a citizen who understands these values would be tempted to alert the public and thus help identify and denounce the errors committed. Do we really believe that a citizen will feel like doing so if he or she thinks there may be reprisals?
However, if the justice system can count on clear legislation such as BIll C-426, a citizen who witnesses a fraudulent act or one that harms someone will feel comfortable informing the public through a journalist, in an attempt to improve our society. Similarly, journalists will feel comfortable publishing this information if the conditions allowing them to protect their sources are clearly set out in the legislation. Society can only benefit.
In September 2005, the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec took a stand on the matter by publishing a report entitled “Protection des sources et du matériel journalistique”. The report was written by Marie-Claude Pednault and is available in French on that organization's Web site. I invite all my colleagues in the House to read it. I would like to quote part of that report.
In January 2004, in R v. The National Post, Justice Mary Lou Benotto of the Superior Court of Ontario pointed out that the evidence heard demonstrates that the use of anonymous sources is crucial to uncovering and reporting information of interest to the public. According to the judge, forcing a journalist to break a promise to not disclose the name of a source would cause considerable harm to the public's right to information. Justice Benotto referred to a very interesting comparison made the House of Lords in Britain: if the identity of police informers could be revealed in a court room, police informers would stop informing, and the police would be very limited in their duty to prevent and solve crimes. To force journalists to reveal their sources could have similar repercussions on the freedom of the press.
Closer to home, in the Supreme Court of Canada ruling Canadian Broadcasting Corp. v. Lessard, Justice La Forest wrote:
I have little doubt, too, that the gathering of information could in many circumstances be seriously inhibited if government had too ready access to information in the hands of the media. That someone might be deterred from providing information to a journalist because his or her identity could be revealed seems to me to be self-evident.
As the judges I quoted—and I could have quoted more—so clearly expressed, if society wants to shed some light on many crimes and injustices, it has no choice but to ensure its citizens anonymity in the disclosure of certain information.
Anonymity is fundamental to the activities of a number of organizations that protect the public and fight crime, such as RECOL, a system for reporting economic crime in Canada, InfoCrime Québec and Quebec's youth protection branch, which receives reports of child abuse, violence and negligence.
Protecting sources of information in the case of tips or journalism is vital in societies that value public safety, but also in societies that fight abuse and injustice. Consequently, can this House afford not to pass Bill C-426, given how clear and relevant it is? I do not think so.
It would not be the first time a country has passed legislation enabling journalists to protect their sources. In her 2005 report, Ms. Pednault says that legislation to protect journalists has been passed in 31 American states and the District of Columbia.
In Sweden, protection of journalists in both the print and electronic media is enshrined in the constitution. The Swedes are so convinced of the importance of protecting journalistic sources that a journalist who reveals the identity of a source can face criminal prosecution.
Protecting sources is not the only important consideration when it comes to freedom of expression and information. It is just as important that the public sees the media as independent from the government and its public safety agencies.
Media credibility is crucial to the public's perception of what they see in the media. Under Communist rule in the former USSR, if Pravda, the official government newspaper, reported that the potatoes were excellent that year, people would stop buying them. I am joking, but you can see that this is not so far from reality. On issues such as the neutrality of journalistic information, the smallest suspicion creates doubt in people's minds. We who work in politics understand this all too well.
Now, after having explained why I think Bill C-426 is so important and so relevant, I want to emphasize one final, essential aspect of the bill.
Although the bill clearly defines the conditions with respect to disclosure of sources, disclosure of unpublished documents, warrants for documents and the publication of information following a warrant, it maintains the judge's right to apply the subsection that recognizes a journalist's right not to reveal a source except under the conditions set out in the bill. In such cases, the judge must ask the prosecution, the defence and any other party to the cause to submit their opinions on the matter.
That way, the judge can protect a source known to a journalist as defined by the bill who does not have sufficient resources to make full answer and defence. I appreciate my colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin's experience and rigour, which minimized the loopholes that could have undermined the protection provided by the law. This is very important because it shows, once again, that the purpose of the bill is to provide a legal framework that is both effective and useful.
I have just one more point I would like to raise about—