House of Commons Hansard #191 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was journalists.


Journalistic Sources Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

1:15 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

(Motion agreed to)

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot.

Journalistic Sources Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

1:15 p.m.


Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising in the House today to speak about and defend freedom of the press. I thank the sponsor of the bill, which I will support.

Canada has dropped 14 points in the World Press Freedom Index in two years, since the Liberals took office. This is alarming, and it is time to act.

Protecting the freedom of the press, particularly a journalist’s confidential sources, is vitally important, which is why I am standing in support of the intentions of this bill. However, I do have a few regrets about certain aspects of it.

Today we live in a connected world, in an era with a variety of platforms and social networks. The concept of media must evolve with the new information distribution channels and new journalistic practices. We should go with a broad definition of what a journalist is. We need to leave it up to judges to decide whether an individual was acting as a journalist or not when a disclosure request is received.

I am concerned to see that the Senate committee narrowly limited the definition, since it is unacceptable that protection of journalistic sources be given only to the traditional media. I am certain that many journalists are doing a tremendous job outside of conventional media. The NDP will therefore be submitting an amendment in committee to restore the definition of “journalist” that was in the original version of the bill.

The NDP has always been on the side of the media against attacks on their independence and has always defended press freedom. The NDP was there, on November 16, at a press conference with major Canadian media organizations to condemn the wiretapping of journalists and to defend press freedom in this country. I would like to thank my colleague from the riding of Beloeil—Chambly, who is standing up for press freedom and the protection of journalistic sources.

Where are the Liberals? The situation is troubling. The Liberal government is always shirking its responsibilities. Internationally, we see that nothing is being done to bring home Raif Badawi, who has been confined and mistreated since 2012 in Saudi prisons. Nothing is happening here at home either. Once again, Canadian citizens cannot count on their government to take the appropriate action.

Considering how often the Prime Minister makes grand pronouncements about freedom of the press, I would like to know why this bill came from the Senate, not from the government. Protecting people takes more than just good intentions. Our journalists and their sources risk their jobs and sometimes their lives to supply us with reliable information on matters of public interest. This is a serious issue that calls for serious action now.

Media in my riding are doing outstanding work. Our newspapers, Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe, Le Clairon, Journal Mobiles, and La Pensée de Bagot, and our radio stations, Boom Montérégie and Radio Acton, as well as our television stations, CogecoTV Saint-Hyacinthe, Maskatel, and Cooptel, are doing great work. I know them all well, I have worked with them, and I know they do top-notch work on the ground that our entire region is proud of. Every day, women and men across Canada work to keep us informed about what is going on in Quebec, Canada, and the world. That includes journalists, but it also includes sources, who often reveal vital information on matters of public interest.

Unfortunately, this reporting could be threatened if nothing is done to maintain the bonds of trust between journalists and their sources and to protect the confidentiality of these sources. Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe, in print since 1853, is the oldest French newspaper in America. Many residents of Saint-Hyacinthe read it, and they recognize the quality and reliability of the information in that newspaper and other local media. How can media consumers feel confident that they are well informed, knowing that print journalists are possibly being spied on by their own government? It is time we legislate to protect journalists' confidential sources and to change the way surveillance warrants are issued.

Under this bill, a justice of the peace will no longer have the authority to issue search warrants to investigate a journalist. Only a Superior Court judge would be authorized to do so, under certain conditions. This represents major progress that will provide journalists with assurances that a search warrant really is the last resort.

I would also like the Minister of Public Safety to call a public inquiry as soon as possible to get to the bottom of the issue of journalists under surveillance by the RCMP and other federal security agencies. There have been repeated incidents for many years now.

In 2007, La Presse journalist Joël-Denis Bellavance was under surveillance by the RCMP, which is completely unacceptable, and his is not the only one. In October 2016, La Presse revealed that journalist Patrick Lagacé had also been under surveillance, this time by the Montreal police. That came as no surprise given that 98% of applications for a warrant to investigate a journalist submitted by the police to a justice of the peace were granted. I think these repeated scandals raise some very serious questions about the state of freedom of the press and democracy in this country.

On November 4, 2016, after the attacks on the freedom of the press in Quebec had come to light, I asked the Minister of Public Safety in the House to tell us exactly how many journalists are being spied on. At that time, the minister said that this was not happening at the federal level.

Why then did the government not immediately launch a public inquiry in order to shed some light on the RCMP's practices regarding journalists? After all of the attacks on the freedom of the press that have occurred in recent years, Canadians have the right to call the government to account.

We need to determine the extent of the problem and establish new safeguards to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. I would also like to talk about Ben Makuch, a journalist for VICE, who could go to prison because he is refusing to reveal his sources to the RCMP. In the bill that we are examining today, there is a provision that allows journalists to refuse to disclose information if they believe that the confidentiality of their source would be threatened. This represents some progress toward stronger protections for our journalists and their sources.

We can no longer keep count of the scandals that have been uncovered here in Canada and around the world because of anonymous yet highly credible sources. For journalists to be able to investigate freely, they have to be allowed to gain the trust of their sources. Establishing this trust becomes impossible for journalists if they are forced to disclose information that might jeopardize the confidentiality of their sources.

Freedom of the press is everyone's business. It is a non-partisan issue because it is a pillar of our democracy. To ensure this freedom, journalists working coast to coast to provide quality information to the public need assurances that they will not be under surveillance. This means that their confidential sources have to be protected.

Every journalist needs to be able to investigate without fear of being watched or wiretapped. Bill S-231 is an improvement, but does not quite go as far as I had initially hoped, including in providing a broader definition of media.

This bill has the support of journalists associations across the country, of Canada's major media outlets, and lawyers who specialize in media law, as well as the Barreau du Québec. The government cannot vote against this bill. For far too long, it has been avoiding the issue and trying to shirk its responsibilities. Soon we will see whether the Liberals are the valiant defenders of freedom of the press that they claim to be or whether this was just more rhetoric.

As I said, my region is home to the oldest French-language newspaper in America, and we are very proud of it. I have been in office for several years now, first as a municipal councillor and now as an MP. I appreciate the fact that our local media can be critical of our work. I appreciate how they act as watchdogs and keep abreast of the issues.

Much of their work is in the public interest. They make sure that we spend public money appropriately and that the people's interests are properly represented. Their questions might make us squirm sometimes, but they are important for our democracy. As I often said to my fellow municipal councillors, those looking for subservient media should move to a dictatorship.

Protecting our journalists is important.

Journalistic Sources Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

1:25 p.m.


Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-231, which was introduced by my colleague, Senator Carignan, who did an exceptional job as opposition leader in the upper house for our party. Mr. Carignan is from the Montreal region, so he is very familiar with what is going on in the media sector in our greater metropolitan area.

I am also glad that the government decided to support this bill, which is so important for our democracy.

Last year, like many Quebeckers, I was shocked to learn that police forces, whose job is to protect us, had a number of journalists under surveillance. Naturally, I have a lot of admiration for this country's police forces and law enforcement agencies, whose members, for the most part, choose to work in policing because they want to keep us safe and protect our families and our rights. For them, it is a matter of principle, honour, and ensuring a healthy democracy.

We need to ensure that our law enforcement officers continue to serve all Canadians, rather than just one branch of a political office, whether it be that of a mayor or MP. We need to avoid the embarrassments we have seen over the past few years, and still recently, in certain regions of Canada.

We are not a communist country like China or Cuba, despite our Prime Minister's willingness to sing the praises of some of their leaders. One thing is certain; Canada is a democratic country. In a country like ours, everyone should ensure maximum freedom of expression so that the rights of all Canadians are protected.

The resources available to the state, especially when it comes to surveillance and wiretapping, are supposed to be used only in situations where they are deemed essential, specifically in order to thwart an attack that is imminent or in the works. The fact that an employee working for a municipal, provincial, or federal government wants to blow the whistle on an embarrassing situation is clearly not a matter of national security that would require police forces to set aside important investigations to sound the alarm. That is what we believe on this side of the House, and of course all parties agree on this.

The most blatant example in Canadian history is that of the Gomery commission. Journalist Daniel Leblanc from The Globe and Mail uncovered a story that caused quite an uproar and ended with the investigation that we are all familiar with today. The whole thing started with an informer known as “Ma Chouette”. We never found out the person's real name because Mr. Leblanc went so far as to go to court to protect his journalistic sources. This helped Canadian society to make significant advances.

It is therefore essential that we be able to protect those people. Senator Carignan, who sponsored this bill, was aware of the importance of striking a balance so as not to create a free-for-all where government secrets would be leaked in violation of the law.

It is important to point out that this bill still allows the courts to authorize the disclosure of information, even if they do so only in rare cases where the public interest in the administration of justice outweighs the public interest in protecting confidentiality. Under clause 39 of the bill, the court must take into account the following three factors: the essential role of the information in the proceeding, freedom of the press, and the impact of disclosure on the journalistic source.

Judges are required to think carefully before issuing wiretap warrants, and obtaining such warrants will not be a mere formality that is automatically rubber-stamped. Judges cannot issue such warrants unless they are absolutely necessary.

The Chamberland commission on the wiretapping of journalists is currently under way in Quebec, and it is causing quite the stir.

This is further proof that the bill must be passed, so that all of these things can change and that journalists are able to conduct the necessary investigations to advance democracy.

That said, as he acknowledged himself before the Chamberland commission this week, the officer responsible for wiretaps in the case of Mr. Lagacé, of La Presse, acknowledged that despite the lack of urgency, he had no trouble obtaining a wiretapping warrant. Had Bill S-231 already been in place at the time, things would have played out entirely differently, and for the better.

I would like to reiterate that freedom of the press is fundamental in a free and democratic society such as ours. The press' role is to question, to investigate and to ensure that governments at all levels respect their commitment to openness and transparency. Incidentally, I would like to digress for a moment by touching on the events, starting last week, that led to the withdrawal of Ms. Meilleur's candidacy this week for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages.

MPs and journalists alike worked on this file. Journalists uncovered the facts and presented them to us. Certain individuals, some under the cover of anonymity, spoke to journalists and expressed reservations about Ms. Meilleur’s appointment. Not only did this spark controversy, but it also prompted us elected representatives to action. Though people would not necessarily have contacted us directly, they were comfortable enough talking to journalists, who then publish the news in a neutral way. Neutrality is very important. We all have our contacts and our networks, that is the nature of politics, but I think that people will still regularly supply information that may move certain matters forward or even allow all the facts to come to light, as the Gomery commission did. Sources often prefer to supply information anonymously to a journalist, as journalists are neutral and not tied to any particular political party. That makes it possible for them to speak freely, which is not always the case.

The government has boasted for a year and a half about being open and transparent. Transparency is not creating a website where people can enter their name. Over time it was revealed that Ms. Meilleur made contributions to the Liberal Party. There were still some dots to connect, however. As more time passed, we became aware of mounting evidence pointing towards the fact that this was indeed a partisan appointment. There was still more digging to do.

The press' role is to question, investigate and ensure that governments at all levels respect their commitment to openness and transparency. Without the press, Canadians may not have become aware of scandals such as the sponsorship scandal, the Prime Minister's wheeling and dealing, cash-for-access fundraisers, or partisan appointments such as that of Ms. Meilleur.

Despite Liberal promises to be open and transparent, Ms. Suzanne Legault, the Information Commissioner, concluded in her report yesterday that government is more secretive than ever.

I am pleased to support this bill, which recognizes the importance of journalists and sets clear safeguards to prevent the government from pushing too far with the powers that Canadians have given it.

I would also like to note, as my colleague from the NDP has just done, that there are also local media venues in our ridings. The local community media can also receive information in a neutral manner. I would like to list them: on radio, there is CIEL FM in Rivère-du-Loup, CHOX FM in La Pocatière, and CIQI FM in Montmagny. For newspapers, there is Le Placoteux, Info Dimanche and Journal L’Oie Blanche. On television there is CIMT and CMATV. I am firmly convinced that all these communications networks allow for better democracy. I support them and I would ask them to continue their good work. We need them, as they are essential to Canadian democracy.

Journalistic Sources Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

1:35 p.m.

Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario


Marco Mendicino LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, today, I would like to advise my colleagues of the government’s position regarding this important debate on Bill S-231 , the journalistic sources protection act.

It is an issue that affects all Canadians. Since this discussion is taking place at a time when the media is under attack in certain parts of the world, it is important to highlight their essential role in protecting our freedoms and our democracy.

Last October, it was made known to the public through the media that several media outlets and journalists were the targets of police surveillance in Quebec. Although a journalist, just like any other Canadian, can be the subject of a criminal investigation, what the public and parliamentarians were most concerned about was the possibility of the media being surveilled to identify their sources in a context where it was not evident that the criminality of the journalists was in question.

It is clear that such conduct is profoundly troubling, as it has a potential chilling effect on the willingness of whistleblowers to come forward with their stories. Whistleblowers are often the only source for uncovering systemic corruption and other issues that undermine our democracy.

As a result of that incident, the Government of Quebec acted quickly and amended its guidelines and protections for obtaining warrants against journalists.

To that end, it put them in the same group as lawyers, judges, and members of the National Assembly, for whom additional guarantees and special protocols for obtaining warrants apply.

The Government of Quebec also established a commission of inquiry to look into the issue. The commission should conclude its hearings by the end of the month.

In light of these events, two bills were introduced in Parliament on the issue of privilege concerning journalistic sources. Today we are debating the merits of the bill from the Hon. Senator Claude Carignan, sponsored in the House by my colleague, the member for Louis Saint Laurent.

Our government believes that the overall objective of the bill, to ensure that the protection of journalistic sources is given due consideration whenever they are at issue in Canadian courts, is laudable. This initiative transcends political lines. On that note, we would like to thank Senator Carignan, as well as all the other senators who worked so tirelessly and passionately on this important bipartisan initiative. That is why we are proud to support Bill S-231, all the while proposing certain amendments that will not only address certain legal and policy concerns that have been voiced but will help it better meet its objective.

This issue is clearly very important, but it must be noted that the jurisprudence on confidential sources is very complex.

The current laws have been referred to the Supreme Court of Canada for consideration of the very issues addressed by the bill we are debating.

At this time, the protections afforded to journalists and their sources have been upheld over the evolution of common law, in other words, in this context, the jurisprudence that interpreted the freedoms granted by the charter and the legislative framework consisting of the Canada Evidence Act and the Criminal Code.

This is important to note, because when Parliament enacts laws, it is codifying strict practices that will frame an issue, and as a result, supplant the common law. This is why it is important that whatever legislative change we enact in the name of journalistic protection, it must further protect journalists and their sources and not weaken them.

In relation to the Canada Evidence Act amendments, the bill seeks to create a unique regime, applicable any time the media wish to protect a journalistic source. However, there are some problems relating to this new regime. In clause 2 of the bill, one of the factors listed, in proposed subparagraph 39.1(8)(b)(i), is the “essential role of the information or document to the proceeding”.

Our government is concerned that the reference to “essential” could impede the administration of justice in some cases, as it may be unknown at the outset of a proceeding whether a piece of information or a document is essential. Requiring consideration of the “importance” of the information or document would still be within the spirit of the bill but would provide the court with greater latitude to make its determination.

Next, the new condition added by the Senate at committee, proposed paragraph 39.1(8)(c), “due consideration was given to all means of disclosure that would preserve the identity of the journalistic source”, is a valuable addition, even if a document is admissible. This condition will always be met, which will weaken the privilege. As such, our government believes that this new condition should be moved to a separate section such that it is not a condition of admissibility but rather a step the decision-maker must undertake once information is admissible. This is expected to strengthen the protection of journalistic sources.

Finally, the bill proposes an override provision that would give the provisions of the bill supremacy over any other provision of the act or any other act of Parliament. This provision is not only unnecessary for the proper operation of this new scheme but raises significant legal and policy issues. It is wholly unclear how this override would affect other laws, including those that relate to privacy and national security. As Parliament believes that every law it passes is important, override clauses should be used sparingly.

With regard to clauses affecting the Criminal Code, we need to look at how investigative tools such as search warrants and production orders can be issued and executed when they relate to journalists. Although the purpose of these proposals is to protect journalistic sources, the procedure in the bill would apply the moment a journalist becomes the subject of an investigative tool even if the journalist is the subject of a criminal investigation.

The bill also proposes a triage procedure that requires the gathered evidence to be sealed and reviewed by a court before the information can be disclosed to police. It is important to note that the bill says only a superior court judge shall authorize the use of an investigative tool on a journalist.

Like the proposed amendments to the Canada Evidence Act, our government is of the view that these proposed Criminal Code amendments raise some discreet legal and policy issues.

The fact that the new regime would apply even in cases where a journalist is suspected of criminal activity was a major concern of Senator Vernon White at the Senate committee, and our government remains concerned that it was not adequately addressed by the Senate.

Our government does not suggest that a confidential journalistic source should lose his or her protection in this context. As such, we propose that the additional conditions for the attainment of a warrant would not apply in cases where the journalists themselves are suspected of criminal activity, but the sealing order provisions would still apply to protect the source.

The other policy question arises because the new regime seems to apply each and every time a journalist is implicated, even when the police are not aware that the target is a journalist. Our government does not believe this was the intention of the bill, but the fact remains that it could lead to court challenges where police subsequently discover they are investigating a journalist but were not aware at the time of the application. Making it clear that the regime would only apply when the police know or reasonably ought to have known that the target is a journalist, and creating a process whereby the police could inform the court when they become aware that the target is a journalist, would make the scheme much more workable.

Lastly, the bill also provides for an override clause with respect to the Criminal Code provisions. This is not a situation that needs an override clause, yet there is the real potential for conflicts with other acts. Most notably, it would prevent the police from acting in exigent circumstances, which may include ongoing terrorist activities or attacks where the perpetrators use the media to increase their exposure.

I ask all members in the chamber and in the other House to support the bill for all of the reasons that I have identified, as well as the amendments the government is proposing to improve upon it.

Journalistic Sources Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

1:45 p.m.


Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today on Bill S-231, an act to amend the Canada Evidence Act and the Criminal Code. I would first like to thank the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent for bringing forward this bill. He was an esteemed journalist in his past life and knows this very well.

As I was preparing my thoughts on this bill today, I was hoping to talk about a friend of mine, a local reporter on Vancouver Island, Keven Drews. Keven has been a pillar of journalism on Vancouver Island and the west coast for over 20 years. He has shown me what strong, unflinching journalism looks like. Unfortunately, Keven is fighting a brutal 10-year battle with cancer. He is in the hospital today and watching us talk about this very important bill. I am certain he would be happy to know that we are here fighting for freedom of speech and journalists.

The first time I met Keven, and it is hard to believe, I met him surfing. I was in Tofino and he was a cadet, a real, true Canadian committed to Canada and to becoming a journalist who could tell very important stories for coastal people.

As a journalist, he started the local paper, telling our stories, and moved up to become the Alberni Valley Times reporter and editor. Then he went down to Peninsula Daily News, and then over to Port Angeles, Washington, before he got sick. Then he started his own paper, the, and started telling a very important story, the west coast story, to make sure that people across our country heard our story. When Keven got sick, he was on the way up in his career, and he went to work for The Canadian Press so he could be close to the hospitals in Vancouver.

Wherever Keven was, he would stop to hear what was happening in our communities. His late father or his mother, Louise, would be with him, who are very proud of Keven, or his wife Yvette and kids Tristan and Elleree. Keven always made time to hear our important stories. His priorities were to ensure that in the stories of coastal people, stories about economic justice and social justice and environmental justice and indigenous people's rights were included. Some of the stories were difficult and painful.

Keven interviewed me many times, and I always respected his sources. I respected that he had to protect his sources so that he could get the story right. He covered really bad accidents, suicides, corruption, and scandals, really difficult stories to cover. It was the confidentiality that earned Keven the respect that he deserved, and he could cover all of these difficult issues. I acknowledge journalists across our country for the passion and caring that they have to make sure they get it right and build trust within communities.

Before I dive into the rest of my speech, I want to thank Keven. I know a lot of people have gone back to their ridings and I appreciate that, but I would ask members to join me in acknowledging this great man, who fought for journalism, people in our communities, and our country.

One of the biggest challenges for journalists and the journalism profession in general is trust, as I touched on. In a changing media landscape where clicks and views have become its currency, the public's trust in journalism has eroded. In this environment, probing investigative journalism has become all that much more important. This is the kind of journalism that we not only need to celebrate but also rigorously protect.

Along with developing trust with the public through their hard work, it is also vital for journalists to develop trust with their sources. Many of these sources need to speak with anonymity. If sources feel their communication with the journalist could compromise them, those sources will dry up. Bill S-231 aims to protect these journalists and the sources they rely upon to create the powerful, well-founded journalism we deserve here in Canada. If we want to sustain our free and independent press, the protections that this bill provides are necessary.

This bill was introduced in the House on May 3, which was fitting, as it was World Press Freedom Day. On that day, the Prime Minister released a statement, which stated:

Today, we recognize the many journalists who seek out the truth, challenge assumptions and expose injustices, often at great personal risk. They are the cornerstones of any strong and healthy democracy, informing and challenging us all to think more critically about the world around us.

I cannot agree more with the sentiment of the Prime Minister's statement last month. The government needs to move past well-meaning platitudes, though, and pass legislation that grants journalists and their sources the protections they need to pursue difficult stories.

The government needs to clear the way on these reforms. I cannot understand why it remains silent while reporters are prosecuted. If the Prime Minister wants to continue to label himself a champion of the free press, now is the time to prove that claim. The Liberals have yet to act upon Bill C-51 and the threat to free speech it poses for journalists, but support for this bill would be a great step in the right direction. To this point, it is worth noting that in 2015, Canada ranked 10th in the World Press Freedom Index, and this year we have slid to 22nd in the world. We can and need to do better.

The World Press Freedom Index cited four items that caused our rank to drop. One was the revelation that Montreal police tailed a La Presse journalist in an attempt to uncover a leak from their own source. Second, the RCMP is prosecuting a Vice media journalist who has been charged with refusing to give up his direct documents to RCMP officers and could be sentenced to up to 10 years for withholding these documents. Third, a journalist for is being charged by the RCMP for his reporting on a protest at the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador. He followed protestors to bear witness to the protest, and he was prosecuted for this action. Finally, there is our lack of a shield law for journalists and their sources.

The first three examples are offensive, overreaching actions, and these cases need to be resolved. The importance of a shield law for Canada falls to us to accomplish and would help to stop injustices such as these from occurring in the future. We need to follow the examples of countries such as Australia, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in developing a shield law.

I would like to take a moment to speak to some of these cases. In the cases of the Vice reporter and's journalist, both filed stories that will be vital evidence for police in other cases, so it baffles me that journalists acting in the public interest and assisting the public in an invaluable way are then being prosecuted for doing that work. This is a short-sighted approach by police, as it will make journalists consider what stories they pursue in the future. It pushes directly against the rights of these individuals and their protection from self-incrimination. Journalists and the media are not accountable to the government. Strong-arm tactics such as these are the sorts of measures that break down free speech.

I am glad to stand with my colleagues from other parties to advocate for this legislation. This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue of freedom of speech and our democracy, and I think we can all see that. I hope that the government comes to see this as well and supports this bill.

Bill S-231 is a well-meaning piece of legislation. However, I still have reservations about its scope in the bill's current form. I am particularly concerned that small news outlets and freelance writers may still be forced to self-censor or risk entering into an extended legal battle, which remains something few can afford. In 2009-10, The Globe and Mail spent almost a million dollars in legal fees to protect one of its sources, and this kind of expense cannot be expected of local media outlets.

Another concern I have is the limited definition of journalist in the bill's current form. I hope that as this bill reaches the House committee, this language is scrutinized. There is a serious problem if size rather than substance limits the inclusion of publications in the scope of this bill. Bill S-231 is a strong first step, but it is clear that more can be done to reflect the enormity of the media landscape in this day and age.

One of the strongest parts of this legislation is the paradigm shift the bill would provide at the beginning of a police investigation. From the beginning of an investigation, it sets out checks and balances in the judicial process to weigh journalistic integrity against public safety. Journalist advocates provided during warrant requests could lend their expert knowledge and mediate between police forces and judges. This would make sure the onus was on the agencies to prove the need to investigate these journalists.

The bill would also amend the Criminal Code to no longer give a justice of the peace the authority to issue a search warrant relating to a journalist. Only a judge in a superior court would be able to issue a search warrant, under certain conditions that would provide maximum protection to journalists' right to the confidentiality of their sources. This is a wise change. The journalists I have mentioned have been charged with serious crimes, with the potential for significant jail time if they are convicted. Going forward, we need the experience and knowledge of our most seasoned judges in these cases from the very beginning.

This bill needs to be a true shield and not a hurdle to be navigated around. We have a duty to support journalists and freedom of speech in this country. Democracy is at its best when journalists are free to do their job without fear of reverberation. My New Democrat colleagues and I will stand by those who make our country strong with an independent free press.

Journalistic Sources Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

1:55 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I am sure the hearts and prayers of all members are with the hon. member's friend, Keven.

Journalistic Sources Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

1:55 p.m.


Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to also rise today to speak to Bill S-231. I would like to begin by thanking my colleague, the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, for recognizing the importance of this issue and supporting the bill from the other place.

Today, we are speaking about a bill that cuts to the very heart of democracy: freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Those are two concepts that every good and flourishing democracy must uphold. This is imperative and I see the importance of the need to bring this forward today.

One of the reasons these two principles, freedom of the press and freedom of speech, are important is that we are in the pursuit of truth. Our society, western democracy, is always predicated on the pursuit of truth. Truth, typically, needs no defence, but it does need to be brought into the light in that we need to see what the truth is.

As parliamentarians, we have a duty to protect the public and to reduce public health and safety risks by ensuring that everyone knows what the truth is. That can only be found out in certain ways because there are forces in the world that want to limit the truth. They want to hide the truth. Exposing truth can only be done when private citizens engage in a public discourse to bring the truth to light. Sometimes the truth is ugly. Sometimes it is not something everyone wants known. However, in a lot of cases, when the truth is brought out into the light, we can then make appropriate decisions that will make our communities and society better.

That is why, in the defence of truth, we need to ensure that sources are able to bring forward the truth, and to do that with some anonymity, to ensure that our democracy continues to flourish, because if we can stifle truth, we will make decisions based on false information. We will make decisions that are based on misinformation that will then have significant ramifications down the road. The truth must be brought forward. It must be unbiased, and our decisions should not be driven by hidden agendas, whether for profit, prestige, or influence. All these kinds of things can have the effect of people trying to limit the truth.

I am very much in support of the bill. It will improve the likelihood of someone bringing the truth forward and approaching a journalist to say, “You should probably know about this. However, if I do go public with this my life might be at risk, so I need you to bring it forward.”

Journalists take on some of that risk when they come forward as well. We must commend the journalists that do the hard work of bringing truth to light. That is very important. As a society, we must always focus on what the truth is. It is not always what we would like it to be, but it is the truth at the end of the day. Again, I go to the fact that it does not need a defence, but it does need to be brought into the light.

Often, sources find themselves in positions of conflict, where the release of information could harm the organization they work for or harm the security of their job. If they go forward with information that could harm their organization or threaten the security of their job, that is to some degree an understandable situation, but we all know situations where accusations have been made and significant things have happened in terms of people's lives being ruined. Therefore, if we could to some degree share the impact of that with the rest of society, that would be great.

In the past, whistle-blowers have been shunned, demoted, threatened, sued, fired, and their lives have been significantly affected. However, we must commend these people for their pursuit of truth, for identifying the moral good for society in the pursuit of truth. If there is a moral ill that is happening in society and decisions are being made without a key piece of information being brought to the forefront, it is significant and we must have the ability to bring that significant piece of information to the forefront and minimize the backlash or impact that could happen to the person who is bringing it forward.

I would like to bring forward the case of a whistle-blower. Dr. Chopra, a Health Canada scientist, was pressured in the 1990s to approve bovine growth hormone as a veterinarian drug. He had concerns about this drug. Despite his concerns, the pressure to allow this drug to go forward continued, and the pressure was immense. He could not make headway within the organization, so he went public with it and was immediately fired. However, under the bill before us, Dr. Chopra would have been allowed to go to a journalist, go public, and be more anonymous about it.

It is people like Dr. Chopra, who put their livelihoods on the line for the moral good in the pursuit of truth, that the bill would help protect. It would also ensure that we have a society that has all the information it needs to make important decisions.

Specifically in this place, we make a lot of decisions that, in some cases, could be a life and death situation. Therefore, we need to have all the information when we are making decisions, and the pursuit of truth is an immensely important aspect of that.

Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are the two principles that we are dealing with today, and behind those two principles is the idea that we pursue truth. Democratic nations in the world typically recognize that the truth does not need defence. If the truth is brought to light, we have to deal with it. Yes, there might be situations where it may be uncomfortable for particular people, but at the end of the day, if we have that truth, we will be able to flourish and make proper decisions.

Democratic countries also recognize that there is risk in the world. We have all heard of situations where somebody noted in their particular workplace that there was a danger, but when they talked to their supervisor or manager, nothing happened. They felt they wanted a particular thing to change, but if they went public with it, they would immediately be fired. This would not do any good for the rest of the employees in that business, because that risk or danger would still be there. However, with a source safety net, such that we are discussing today, they could go to a journalist, tell their story, and the person would not necessarily be identified. This is a very important component.

This is particularly important when it comes to government. If a government can bury the truth, bury the reality, then it can dictate reality to some degree. If we are not pursuing truth, if we can bury the truth, we can rewrite history or rewrite the reality, which is incredibly dangerous when people are making decisions about what type of government they want. We know that propaganda is often a non-truth or half-truth being put forward as a truth. Therefore, we need to ensure that truth is something that we pursue. We need to ensure that we have freedom of speech and freedom of the press in this country in order to be a viable democracy.

I am supporting the bill, and I would like to thank the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent for bringing it forward.

Journalistic Sources Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

2:05 p.m.


Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, a friend of mine used to say, “What a great day to be alive.” That is exactly the case today. This is a great day for democracy. This is a great day for the press. This is a great day for freedom of the press.

We are at second reading of Bill S-231. In my final remarks, I would like to begin by pointing out that we are indeed here debating this important bill thanks to the efforts of Senator Claude Carignan who worked very hard, quickly, and effectively to find a solution to the problem of protecting journalistic sources, in light of the scandal that broke a few months ago. The case of Patrick Lagacé comes to mind, a veteran Quebec journalist who, unfortunately, was put under surveillance by certain police forces, which was absolutely shameful.

Senator Carignan worked very efficiently to introduce a bill in the upper chamber. He managed to win the support and backing of every press association and to have his bill pass unanimously in the Senate. He did so in a positive and constructive manner by accepting the recommendations made by other senators, including Senator André Pratte, who, as everyone knows, is a veteran journalist who now serves in the upper chamber. Senator Pratte contributed several new, positive, and constructive elements to Bill S-231.

I acknowledge and thank Senator Carignan. I will quickly remind the House of the key elements of this bill.

First, it serves to protect whistleblowers, journalists' sources. The bill does not protect journalists so much as it protects their sources. This bill also defines exactly what constitutes a journalist. Not everyone can define themselves as a journalist. We need to clearly define exactly what constitutes a journalist.

Also, if the police want to conduct a particular investigation, this must be the last resort and the burden of proof must be reversed. A Superior Court judge will now have to authorize them to investigate, whereas, in the past, they could obtain such authorization from a justice of the peace.

We and Senator Carignan do not believe that that was enough. We needed to give this approach some teeth, and that is exactly what this bill does.

I have listened carefully to all members who have participated in the debate in the last hour. I was very impressed by the quality of the speeches. The quality of the arguments the members have tabled was sometimes better than what we had tabled as the godfathers of this bill in the House of Commons, so I want to pay my respects, especially to the NDP members, who always recognize that freedom of the press is important.

We recognize also that in every riding and every locality, there is a local press to protect. Certainly here in Ottawa we sometimes have la crème de la crème as journalists, those who cover us, and for sure we will be polite with them. However, we also recognize that in every community we have strong journalists, good journalists who work hard, and we think of them when we table this bill.

I appreciate the openness of the Liberal Party, of the government, which tabled some suggestions and some positive amendments, and we welcome the fact that we all worked together on this issue.

Let me be crystal clear: this is not a partisan issue. This is a real, true Canadian issue. We are here to protect the liberty of the press. We are here to protect the liberty of democracy. That is why we tabled this bill and some amendments, and we welcome them.

At the end of my speech, I want to say that many of the 338 members in this House have been journalists. I have had that privilege, and just in the Conservative Party, I count at least 10 members who have been journalists. That is why Canadians have recognized for so many years that the Conservative Party is so media-friendly.

Journalistic Sources Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

2:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Liberal Greg Fergus

I thank the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent for his closing remarks.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Journalistic Sources Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

2:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Journalistic Sources Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

2:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Liberal Greg Fergus

I declare the motion carried. Consequently, this bill is referred to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Journalistic Sources Protection ActPrivate Members’ Business

2:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Liberal Greg Fergus

It being 2:13 p.m., this House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:13 p.m.)