moved that Bill C-426, An Act to amend the Canada Evidence Act (protection of journalistic sources and search warrants), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I believe this is the second time that I have the honour of addressing the Chair regarding this bill. It is because of the parliamentary recess and prorogation that I have an additional hour of debate. However, I do feel the need to summarize what I said when the bill was introduced for the first time. Following this new process, many people may think, when they read Hansard, that this legislation is being debated for the first time. So, this is an opportunity for me to respond to a few questions, and even to some criticism that I have heard since the introduction of this bill.
It is true that I have been interested in this issue for a least some 30 years, perhaps even longer—since 1968, in fact. I remember that, at the time—this was before the Charter—we were hoping for legislation to deal with what this bill is addressing. The Charter allowed us to make some progress, but not enough. I find it deplorable that the journalistic practice that I want to protect with this legislation has not been better protected here, even though it has been protected to some extent by the Supreme Court of Canada. The fact is that a very large number of countries in the world, which abide by the same principle of press freedom, have passed laws to ensure such protection.
It is important to first understand this: I am not asking that privilege be bestowed upon journalists. What I am asking for is what the bill would establish: protection for these individuals who we have to recognize have the courage to expose scandals, instances of misappropriation or fraud, and who might face reprisals, should their identity be revealed. The risks they face can run high, depending on the organizations they go after, for example when there is fraud within major organizations.
We are talking about a journalistic practice that has developed over the past 50 years and which is generally recognized as a good thing in our societies. In fact, these individuals who become aware of situations where funds are misappropriated take this information to a journalist. In return, the journalist offers confidentiality, promising never to disclose their name without their consent. That journalistic activity is what this bill seeks to protect.
Usually, journalists look into the matter brought to their attention. They are guided in their investigation by this confidential source, but do not reveal the scandal until the facts can be independently confirmed and they believe it is in the public interest to make the misappropriation known.
The first part of the legislation would enshrine this journalistic practice whereby a journalist may promise his sources that they will remain anonymous for as long as they see fit or fear reprisals.
I also want to protect the practice of journalism. I might add that journalists should not be regarded as auxiliary police, as Supreme Court judges have pointed out in R. v. Lessard.
There are therefore five major provisions in this bill. The first one provides for the protection of journalistic sources, as set out in subclauses 3 to 6, the first two subclauses dealing with definitions and application respectively. As for subclause 7, it provides for something special: lesser but nevertheless very significant protection for unpublished journalistic material.
The objective here is that journalists not be perceived by the public as aiding the police. Usually out of laziness, the police want to give journalists information that they themselves have decided not to release. This is especially true in the case of demonstrations or strikes that turn bad.
The third part refers to issuing search warrants, the conditions for such warrants and conducting the search. Finally, subclause 11 provides a simple way of publishing information under the Canada Evidence Act. It seems to me that there is no need to require someone to appear. A publication is a publication. All someone would have to do to prove that something has been published is produce the publication.
As with any right or duty we want to grant or any value we want to protect, we have to think about other values that may conflict with those we want to protect. Certainly, nearly all the members of this House recognize that the journalistic practice of protecting confidential sources has made it possible to shed light on serious misdoings.
History is filled with such cases, the most famous being Watergate, the Enron scandal and even the sponsorship scandal. In my opinion, confidential sources will likely be increasingly necessary and common as companies secretly try to circumvent environmental protection rules, for example. A journalist would need to be pointed in the right direction in such a case. Here again, journalists will always have to base what they write on evidence they have obtained independently, or else pay damages in case of libel. Their papers will have to pay as well, which is why newspapers are fairly cautious in using this journalistic practice. Our intent is not to create a licence to commit hidden libel.
Since we are talking about a social value and not a privilege given to a certain category of people, the bill provides that judges themselves may raise the issue if they see that there is a problem of a confidential source. Judges may—I am not saying they must—raise the issue and ask the lawyers for their opinion. In this way, judges can protect the source against a negligent journalist who promised to protect a source but did not take steps to do so or no longer objects to the source's identity being revealed. Because the bill aims to protect the source, judges may raise this issue on their own initiative.
This tool is well defined in clause 5. A judge can weigh the values that may lead to contradictory decisions.
I was asked what judge this refers to. If we understand the section well, it means the judge before whom the journalist testifies or a judge who is asked to order the journalist to disclose their sources. This can mean a number of different types of judges who preside over criminal or civil courts, or even a federal court, as is currently the case. The judge could nonetheless order this disclosure, but only if the judge considers it to be in the public interest or if the following conditions are met.
The person has done everything in their power to discover the source of the information and the disclosure is in the public interest, having regard to the outcome of the litigation—that which is at stake—the freedom of information, and the impact of the journalist’s testimony on the source. Obviously, they will assess whether the source did indeed tell the truth or not and whether they committed a crime or not. It is still quite possible to have cases on this issue.
As far as clause 7 is concerned, perhaps because it is short, some people did not exactly understand the significance of it. This is the third part of the legislation I am proposing.The purpose of this clause is to protect a journalist's information, namely unused footage for television. Journalists must not be perceived as auxiliary police, as an easy place to go to for evidence of wrongdoing during a demonstration, for example. That was the context of most of the cases I dealt with in my career as a pro bono legal advisor.
The courts have been very clear about their reasons for accepting such a thing. For example, Justice La Forest, in Canadian Broadcasting Corp. v. Lessard, said:
Freedom of the press is vital to a free society and comprises the right to disseminate news, information and beliefs. 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. The press should not be turned into an investigative arm of the police. Thus, the fear that the police can easily gain access to a reporter's notes could well hamper the ability of the press to gather information.
Clause 7 seeks to protect that freedom. It sets out the exceptional situations in which it might apply.
The rest of the bill, except for the last subsection, deals with search warrants. I have basically summarized existing case law, which is much clearer on this issue than on the first one my bill addresses. I have explained all of this in detail before, and people can review the record.
I also want to point out that this principle has been recognized in most European countries. It has been recognized in 32 of the United States through legislation and in 18 others through case law. There is one major exception in the United States: the principle is not recognized in federal legislation, but it is widely recognized elsewhere.
In Sweden, the principle was considered so important that it was enshrined in the Swedish constitution. England does not have laws to protect journalists, but the European Court of Human Rights overturned the conviction of a journalist who refused to reveal a source he had promised to keep anonymous.
It is clear that this journalistic practice is widely recognized in the civilized world. The principle is recognized in Canada, but I think that it now makes sense to enshrine it in law to simplify things and to guide the people involved, such as police officers, journalists and justices of the peace who issue warrants.
The courts will decide whether this complies with the charter or not. The charter recognizes basic rights, but in a society like ours, people have much more than basic rights. It makes sense to define those rights in relation to the charter, of course, but sometimes we need to go beyond the charter. Parliament must step up to the plate and must not leave the toughest problems to the judges.