Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise this evening to speak to Bill S-231 to protect the confidentiality of journalist sources. I wish to commend the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, who I know is very passionate about this. It was good to see that he had the opportunity to speak today and to express his passion.
Freedom of the press is a fundamental Canadian value that is protected by the charter. Our government supports this and will defend charter rights. We know that journalists play a key role in ensuring that Canada remains a free and democratic society. Therefore, as my colleagues have said, we will be supporting the bill with the amendments made at committee.
The bill would protect journalists and their sources. That is the distinguishing factor here. We know journalists are protected under section 2(b) of the charter. However, case law has demonstrated that their sources are not protected. That is part of the reason why the need for this has come forward.
It is important to protect the sources of journalists for a number of reasons, the main one being that it enables us to get closer to the truth. We know journalists have sources who are reliable and who would hesitate to come forward if they knew their names would be disclosed. It is important to know that is not sneaky or inappropriate. We have to recognize that certain risks and costs that are taken are not fair and that people are coming forward in the interests of truth. They need to have that assurance.
I relate this to my own life because I, unlike the member, I am not a journalist and have never taken on that role. However, I was a chaplain in a high school and had students come to see me. Over the years, we formed beautiful relationships of trust, friendship, and those sorts of things. If there were any issues or anything that students thought needed attention, they could come to me. The importance for them when they were going to share certain things with me was that it would be in the interest of the community. They would tell me things like a fight was going to break out after school and that it would happen in the park a half mile away. However, they would only tell me that if I promised I would not say where my source came from. Was what they were telling me important? Absolutely. Did I then notify the authorities so the police would be there and there would not be a brutal fight? That is exactly what I did. Did it prevent that fight from happening? Yes.
There are many other examples. Some of these examples were very serious, such as mental health issues, where self-harm was happening. Students would come to me in the interest of protecting another student, in the interest of saving that other student's life. However, they would tell me that I could not reveal where I got the information. I could give them that assurance, and I could follow up and reach out. At the end of the day, justice was served and help was offered. It was a good thing because I had that right.
The goal of journalists is a bit different, but they are after truth and they want accountability. They want Canadians to be informed. This is very important for a free and democratic society. We want Canadians to be informed as well. We, as a government, want to be accountable. For those constituents who have said that they want members to make a difference, to be honest, and they want to be able to trust us, that is exactly what I want to deliver. I want to restore their faith. That is why I am here today.
We, as a government, want to ensure that journalists get the information they need in order to keep us accountable. We want to be held to account. If an investigation is required, we want to ensure we have the information to lead us to that investigation. We do not want that information to be held back. At the end of the day, we know all Canadians will benefit from it.
The bill does many things, but what I want to focus on next is the test that is used. The common law would apply in a situation where we are talking about journalist source confidentiality privilege. The common law uses the Wigmore test. That test has four criteria: one, the communications must originate in a confidence that they will not be disclosed; two, this element of confidentiality must be essential to the full and satisfactory maintenance of the relationship between the parties; three, the relationship must be one that in the opinion of the community ought to be diligently, deliberately, and consciously fostered; and, four, the public interest served by protecting the identity of the source in this particular case must outweigh that of the public interest in getting the truth.
Bill S-231 codifies and simplifies that legislation so that we are not involved in conflicts and wondering what test to use. The test here is simple: the administration of justice outweighs the public interest in preserving confidentiality. It is simplified and codified so that we do not have to go back to the Wigmore test.
This also applies to warrants. The bill includes conditions that allow any material seized by a warrant to be held until a decision is made. This ability to build conditions into a warrant is important because the warrant can be issued and the conditions can be set.
The other thing I would like to talk about, which is very important and very different, is that the burden of proof now shifts to the person who wants the information disclosed. I know that journalists will appreciate and value that very much.
At the end of the day, the bill puts in place a robust and unprecedented protection of journalists' sources by clarifying the test, by preventing conflict of interest law issues, and by ensuring that new safeguards will only apply in appropriate places. I am pleased about this change for journalists. I want to encourage journalists and impress upon them today how important we, as representatives, as members of Parliament, believe their job is. They are doing a very important job. We want to help them do their job well. We think this legislation will help them do that.