moved that Bill S-231, An Act to amend the Canada Evidence Act and the Criminal Code (protection of journalistic sources), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, as a former journalist, it is with sincere emotion that I rise today to speak to the second reading of Bill S-231, which pertains to the protection of journalistic sources.
It is a wonderful story. It gets off to a bad start, but we hope that it will end well. It gets off to a bad start because, just a few months ago, we learned that terrible situations were happening in Quebec, where the police were wiretapping journalists in order to flush out their sources. That is shameful in a democracy.
Senator Claude Carignan from the upper chamber picked up on that and worked quickly, yet in an appropriate and effective manner, to draft Bill S-231, which seeks to protect journalistic sources. This bill was unanimously passed by Canada's upper house. It is therefore a great honour and privilege for me to sponsor this bill, because it is a key component of Canada's democracy that we are going to talk about.
Bill S-231 includes four key points that make it a good bill. First of all, it protects the source and not the journalist. Second, it clearly defines who is considered a journalist, to prevent people from suddenly claiming to be a journalist and committing irrelevant acts.
In addition, moving forward, the only people who can authorize police officers to investigate journalists will be superior court justices and not justices of the peace. Lastly, the bill changes the burden of proof. Police officers will have to prove that their last possible recourse for properly conducting their investigation is to get permission from a judge to investigate a journalist.
The most important distinction in this bill is that it protects the source and not the journalist. Simply put, it is similar to the first laws passed in this place regarding whistleblowers, those who discover wrongdoings and call journalists to tell them when something fishy is going on.
When I was a journalist, it was crucial for me to be able to speak directly to people who had information and wanted to get it out to others. Anyone who has ever been a journalist knows how important this is. However, sources need to feel that they are protected. If journalists are wiretapped and this allows the police to uncover their sources and then track them, the journalists' sources dry up. That is the worst thing that can happen. Therefore, the bill seeks to protect the source and not the journalist. That is an important distinction.
Second, the bill sets out a clear definition of a journalist. Many people can easily write a blog or anything else in their basement in the evening and call themselves journalists. However, the bill provides a clear and precise definition of a journalist.
In that regard, I would like to point out the remarkable contribution, that has not gone unnoticed, of Senator André Pratte, a career journalist and a former manager, editor-in-chief, and distinguished columnist at La Presse. It is a major benefit for democracy to have him in the upper chamber.
Senator Pratte moved an amendment. Senator Carignan, with his good will and desire to move things along, agreed, and that is how we came to have a clear definition of a journalist in the bill. Not just anyone is a journalist. Ultimately, the judge decides whether or not the target of a police investigation is a journalist.
Third, going forward, only Superior Court judges will be able to authorize police investigations.
Right now in Quebec, justices of the peace are the ones with the power to authorize investigations. I know it is the same thing in other Canadian jurisdictions, but I will limit my comments to my own personal experience. In the case of the Montreal police service, 98% of such requests were granted. That number was a tad high. Perhaps an investigation, or at the very least further analysis, was required.
That is why, with his usual efficiency and great skill, Senator Carignan suggested that we leave those decisions to Superior Court judges rather than justices of the peace. Without wanting to disparage justices of the peace, such sensitive situations require the attention of an experienced jurist.
Indeed, Superior Court judges have the necessary training to deal with just such circumstances.
The last point is rather tricky. It deals with reversing the burden of proof. In other words, the police officers seeking to investigate a journalist or identify a source are the ones who will have to make an application to a judge and offer supporting arguments; only those that succeed in convincing the judge of the merits of their arguments will see their applications granted. This is a major change to operational procedure. Even with the burden of proof reversed, no one will be able to prevent the police from investigating if they believe they have very good reasons to do so. Nevertheless, they will first have to undertake a rigorous analysis and make a solid argument. Then, they will have to convince a Superior Court judge.
This bill is well put together and well-intentioned. If by chance it passes, journalists will be able to do their work with even more confidence. Thanks to this bill, sources will not dry up or be scared off. It just so happens that I talked to Patrick Lagacé when he was being wiretapped. I got a kick out of saying, “Hi, police officer”. When we found out just a few months ago that he was being wiretapped, that struck us all as unacceptable. We have to fix it.
Senator Carignan's bill fixes the problem. It has gone through a Department of Justice analysis, where it was tweaked. It has also been vetted by police services to make sure they can continue to do their work. We have no desire to handicap them in the work they do. We want to give them even more tools to help them do an even better job. That is what Senator Carignan's bill does. This bill is well written and will get the job done.
Unfortunately, Canada has been at the back of the pack because many countries like ours have laws that protect journalistic sources. That includes Australia, Germany, France, and Great Britain, which have laws about this. Let us hope that a majority of parliamentarians will support this bill so we can go forward.
Editors, executives, and journalists' associations alike enthusiastically applauded Senator Carignan's bill in both English and French. That hardly ever happens. I would like to read some of their comments. “Sources are scared”, said Éric Trottier, deputy editor of La Presse. “They want us to find safer ways for them to communicate with our journalists”. This bill will fix that.
Other opinions came from Michael Cooke, editor-in-chief of the Toronto Star, as well as editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail David Walmsley, who said:
We’re here because [confidential sources] are facing enormous threats....
At a Senate committee, Mr. Walmsley pointed out that the Globe spent nearly $1 million in legal fees in 2009 and 2010 to protect the identity of a source whose revelations concluded in good and great articles.
As everyone knows, the entire press praised Senator Carignan's bill, which was passed unanimously by the Senate. Professionals were even called in to amend the bill and make it as relevant as possible. The Department of Justice carefully vetted it and acknowledged it was good piece of legislation.
Among other things, the bill clearly defines the journalistic profession, protects journalistic sources, and ensures that police officers will still be able to do their job. The burden of proof will be reversed, which will only strengthen their authority when they conduct an investigation, especially since Superior Court judges will be the ones authorizing them, when required.
This is an excellent bill. Today is a good day for democracy. It is a good day for freedom of the press. I hope that my colleagues will all agree on this bill.