Mr. Speaker, I support and speak in favour of this bill, along with my party.
Many things that have been discussed and put forward in support of this bill, but some of those ideas and concepts bear repeating. I hope to touch on a couple of other facets of the bill that are worthy of underlining.
I will say at the beginning that we do support this bill and, if there are ways to improve it, it will be done at committee.
One of the things that is most disturbing in any democracy is any attempt to close off or shut down the freedom of the press. Members will know of the most recent events around the world where the rights of the press have been suppressed. I think of the recent situation that we are watching with great unease in Burma. When we look at the freedom of the press, which seems to be challenged around the world these days, and certainly this has been documented, journalists are having a harder time doing their jobs.
Many of us in this place from time to time might disagree with how journalists contemplate or exercise that freedom but no one in this place would be in any way critical of their right to have an opinion and to ensure it is unfettered, with some obvious qualifications and responsibilities.
I say that in general because this is too important an issue to play partisan politics with. This is a foundation of our democracy, that is, the freedom of the press and the freedom of those who are practitioners in the fourth estate, to ensure they are able to do their jobs without the state interfering unnecessarily.
Therefore, the bill in front of us is critical. What is being attempted here meets the nod test from us but we need to ensure there is more clarity for judges, that there are cleaner and clearer guidelines for judges.
We have mentioned the case of Juliet O'Neill from the Ottawa Citizen. Many of us, not only in my home town here in Ottawa, were aghast at what happened in that case. I think people right across the country and indeed those who were following the story internationally, were surprised, saddened and very concerned that this could happen.
If we look at what journalists' responsibilities are, they have many, but they have a responsibility to protect sources at times. We see this not only in the field of journalism but in the field of litigation. We see it with lawyers and with doctors. We actually see it with those who are from faith communities, that there is some delegation of trust. I think most people understand that there is an understanding and a responsibility of confidentiality.
What is the responsibility of confidentiality, in this case of journalists, and the role of the state for reasons of national security? How are those two things dealt with? How do we navigate those waters?
The bill sets out to lay down some criteria that is important. A colleague from the Bloc has already spoken about this. The first couple of paragraphs of the bill are more or less descriptive and then we get into the meat of it, particularly when we get into section four, and that is the power of the judge. Judges may, on their own initiative, raise the potential application of subsection three and ask the prosecution and the defence and any other party to present an opinion on the matter. I think that gets things going.
Then we get to subsection five, which reads:
A judge may not order a journalist to disclose to a person the source of any information that the journalist has gathered, written, produced or disseminated for the public through any media, unless the judge considers....
There is where we get the required clarity, the clarity that was required certainly in the case of Juliet O'Neill and other cases. We see from today's Quorum that some La Presse journalists are being challenged in this very area. I cannot get into the details of the case, nor will I, because it is being debated now, but I will just point to the fact that this is an ongoing concern. Certainly it does not just affect journalists like Juliet O'Neill, but at present also some journalists at La Presse.
It means that this sequence of events where the judge must follow the laid-out criteria is what has been missing. Again, if there are other facets that need to be dealt with at committee, then so be it.
Proposed subsection 39.1(7) regarding disclosure states:
A journalist is required to disclose information or a record that has not been published only if the information or record is of vital importance and cannot be produced in evidence by any other means.
That is another important facet that had not been addressed. When we move on to proposed subsection 39.1(8) about search warrants, that certainly was a cause of concern before. It deals with the Criminal Code and talks about the criteria and the further clarity required.
In essence, the bill is trying to fine-tune the debate we have had since freedom of the press has existed, and that is the time honoured tradition of those who are in the fourth estate being able to practise their trade on the one hand and on the other hand to make sure that if there are issues of national security, they have worthy protection, as well.
Because of the times in which we are living, it is of absolute critical importance that a balance be struck, and that the clarity that is needed for judges be provided. I say that because of some other considerations we will have before the House, in particular, Bill C-3, which was tabled today.
We have had concerns about how we deal with border security, as recently as yesterday when a retired colonel from the American military was not allowed into our country because of being on an FBI watch list.
Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are critical in the atmosphere in which we are living. They are the foundation of our democracy. If we are not able to find the balance now, we will regret it later. If journalists are not able to protect their sources, we know what will happen. We have seen it around the world and in history. People will no longer come forward. It would not only affect members of Parliament in not being able to find critical analysis because information would not be shared, but citizens in general would not have the information they need to hold institutions to account.
I will end my comments with the plea that we need to follow up on this bill quickly. We need to support it in a non-partisan fashion because it is so important that all those in the business of journalism be able to practise their profession without any fear.
We hope that the government will come forward on one other aspect that needs tweaking, and that is on freedom of information. The government promised after the passing of Bill C-2, the accountability act, that it would act on that. It is one thing to protect sources, but it is another thing to have access and a window to the business that government does.
While we need speedy passage of this bill, which is something we support, we also look forward to and hope that the government will fulfill its promise to bring forward changes to the freedom of information act. Until that time, we know that it will be difficult for journalists not only to ply their trade, but to have a clear window on what government is doing.