Mr. Speaker, despite the Liberals' obsession with living in the past, we need to remember that, last week, on World Press Freedom Day, Reporters Without Borders reminded us that Canada dropped 14 points in the World Press Freedom Index. I would like to remind members that this happened in the past two years. Those who do the math will figure out that we are coming up on this government's two year anniversary. Before resorting to petty partisanship, the government needs to realize that the status quo is unacceptable for democracy and journalism.
It goes without saying that Bill S-231 is a response to high profile cases, in particular, the surveillance of journalist Patrick Lagacé by the Montreal police. Contrary to what we heard in the government member's speech, the federal government is not safe, here in Ottawa, from these same traps and actions that threaten the freedom of the press and, consequently, our democracy.
Take for example, Vice reporter Ben Makuch who is currently in court trying to protect a source within the RCMP. He could go to prison for it.
He is facing prison because the RCMP is tyring to obtain information that will not help it at all in its investigation. On the contrary, all the information the RCMP needs is already in the public domain, in articles published by the journalist in question. I think this is a very striking example.
It does not stop there. The response provided by the RCMP and CSIS over the past weeks, months, and even years on the various incidents that have taken place are rather unconvincing. Consider the example of Joël-Denis Bellavance of La Presse, who was followed and spied on by the RCMP. I reiterate that the status quo is no longer working, and that is why we are pleased to support this bill. Indeed, we must move this forward.
Although the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent is sponsoring this bill in the House of Commons, I am sure he would agree that it is nice to have a private member's bill, but it is high time that this government introduced something even more robust. Much bigger reforms are needed. I am not criticizing what this bill does; on the contrary, it is a first step in the right direction. However, I think a lot of work remains to be done to bring our legislation in line with the 21st century.
As the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent pointed out, social networks and ubiquitous cell phones have changed how journalists and police officers operate, and are still changing things almost every day. We have a lot of catching up to do if we want a system that works the way we want it to.
People have explained what the bill will do, but I just want to go over that again. In a situation like what happened with the VICE reporter, that means reverse onus for protecting sources. This is very important because it does provide a way to ensure public safety if the police can prove, say, that this is the only way it can get information that would save lives. We know that option exists.
I think it is appropriate for the bill to place the onus on the police, not on journalists, who would have to prove that their sources need to be protected. I think this is essential. In addition, warrants are issued by Superior Court judges, not justices of the peace. That is a very important element that strengthens and tightens up the system a lot to make sure that journalistic sources are properly protected.
I am going to read some quotes that I found that illustrate my point. I am not sure if it is against the rules to comment on one's own absence in the House. Unfortunately, I arrived a bit late because I had other commitments. I apologize if I am repeating what my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent said.
I am going to read a few comments, which are quite interesting to me and illustrate the culture that is unfortunately starting to grip journalists and their desire to do their job. Being afraid to do one's job obviously has an adverse effect on the result and, accordingly, democracy.
I will start with a quote by Tom Henheffer from Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. Speaking about the case of the Vice journalist, he said:
He said, “Every civil society organization with ties to free expression in the country are supporting him and condemning the fact that the government is violating press freedom in such an aggressive way. We feel this is a serious blight on Canada's international reputation, and a major mistake on behalf of the RCMP.”
I have another interesting quote, this one from Denis Lessard, parliamentary bureau chief for La Presse in Quebec City. He may have since changed positions. I do not always follow what is happening in Quebec City because I have enough on my plate. He was talking about the police surveillance scandal in Montreal and the SQ. He said:
I have covered politics for almost 40 years, [I am not going to state my age, but let us just say that we are talking about a seasoned professional] and have often reported on politically sensitive topics. You tell yourself that it is always possible that you are being spied on by police, but you are also convinced that they would never dare go that far. Well, it seems we were wrong.
This illustrates the point I was making to show that a journalist starts to change his attitude toward police work even after 40 years of experience with sensitive topics. Let us just say that it has a dampening effect on the work that is done.
I have another quote, this one from Marie-Maude Denis from Radio-Canada:
I have always been extremely careful with regard to my confidential sources, but of course when ‘fighting’ against the police you are always outgunned, as they have access to this kind of investigative tool. The future will tell us or maybe we will never know everything they have discovered about me.
Once again, this perfectly illustrates the change in culture. Journalists would indeed like to know, but they remain in the dark. They wonder what information police departments or other national security agencies, such as CSIS, have on them. That is very worrisome.
I will deviate a little from the matter before us, specifically the bill. I just want to make a general comment. Earlier, I said that there is much work to be done. For the NDP, it goes without saying that the reforms are a good example of that. Our position is that Bill C-51 should be rescinded. We heard groups of journalists express concerns about certain provisions on criminalization and terrorist propaganda. These are very important concerns for the journalists covering these stories or those that infiltrate terrorist cells in order to report facts of public interest. Mainly, we are talking about journalists working for smaller media outlets that have neither the financial nor the legal resources that larger organizations have to give their employees greater and more robust legal protection during court proceedings. That is a very important consideration to bear in mind.
I want to end with a problem that we have with the bill and that we hope to fix in committee. We do not agree with the amendment adopted by the Senate regarding the definition of a journalist. After talking to some journalist groups working in the field and on this issue, we believe that the definition is too narrow and could cause problems for bloggers or journalists who work in non-traditional media.
The member for Louis-Saint-Laurent acknowledged it once again in his remarks. Social media and the Internet, among other things, are changing the field of journalism significantly. We therefore believe that judges should be given the discretion to decide whether someone is a journalist and works in the field of journalism. That would give judges enough discretion to ensure the integrity of what the bill is proposing, while also making sure that journalists working in new media or non-traditional media are not unfairly punished.
That is what we are going to propose in committee. That being said, this bill is an excellent step in the right direction. As the public safety critic, I am very pleased to recommend that my colleagues support the bill, just as I intend to do.
Of course, I would like to thank Senator Carignan and the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent for their efforts. The bill could not have been introduced at a better time, as May 3 was World Press Freedom Day. This is an issue that we should all be concerned about.
As politicians, we have all had our run-ins with journalists, but I believe that our democracy will always be better served by freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and the NDP will join all those who are working toward those goals.