Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-426, An Act to amend the Canada Evidence Act (protection of journalistic sources and search warrants).
This bill includes three key measures: it protects the confidentiality of journalistic sources, it protects the unpublished information that a journalist may have, and it sets additional requirements for the issuance of a warrant to search media facilities.
There is probably not a single Canadian who would question a statement to the effect that freedom of information and freedom of the press are two pillars of a free and democratic society. Indeed, paragraph 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms specifically provides a constitutional guarantee whereby everyone has fundamental freedoms, namely freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.
However, I wish to point out with all due respect that protecting freedom of the press is not the issue here. Rather, we must determine whether the provisions of Bill C-426 improve existing legislation and allow us to ensure a fair balance between the interests of the state, when it investigates crimes and prosecutes criminals, and the public interest that consists in protecting journalists who are seeking the truth from state intervention.
I commend the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin for trying to include in legislation protections offered in common law for journalistic activities. I know he has been studying this issue for a long time. Nonetheless, this area of law is very complex and it is extremely difficult to formulate legal provisions that cover all relevant considerations.
I feel it is important to remember that the general rule in penal law and civil law is that all information that concerns a trial is admissible. Confidential information is an exception to this general rule.
The law of privilege has over time become a means for protecting individual relationships that are essential for the administration of justice or for society in general. Solicitor-client privilege, police informer privilege and spousal privilege are well-known examples.
It is important to realize that privilege in effect denies both the state and the parties involved in the case, including defence lawyers in a criminal trial, access to information that could be quite useful. A change to the law of privilege, and even an attempt to include in legislation what already exists in common law, could have far reaching repercussions on the administration of justice and on the public's confidence in the justice system as a whole.
There are provisions in Bill C-426 that raise concerns. For instance, the definition of journalist is so broad that it could include occasional bloggers. Do the members of this House really want to have a provision that will make it harder for those who want to obtain relevant information from bloggers?
Other provisions of Bill C-426 pose serious strategic problems. For example, Bill C-426 says that the provisions designed to protect journalists take precedence over any other federal legislation. This means that a journalist who has information pertaining to national security could use the provisions in this bill to make it very difficult for government to have access to this information, if and when necessary. Given that the word “information” used in the bill has not been defined, it is not limited to information gathered or disseminated for journalistic purposes.
I raise these concerns to show how difficult it is to entrench in law notions that already exist in common law, and to emphasize the very important strategic and operational issues raised by this bill.
I urge hon. members to defer consideration of Bill C-426. It would be in the public interest that the very important subject of journalistic privilege, and all its implications for the justice system, be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for an in-depth review. Such a review would give the hon. members an opportunity to hear the experts and give careful consideration to all the important issues related to journalistic privilege, a number of which are beyond the scope of Bill C-426.
I thank hon. members for this opportunity to speak on this very important issue.