Madam Speaker, I thank my colleagues for their warm reception. I am delighted to rise here this morning to speak to Bill S-231 on the protection of journalistic sources.
Journalists play a vital role in our democracy. Parliament is a fundamental democratic institution, but I believe that journalism is, as well. Just look at what programs like Enquête and The Fifth Estate have achieved. Those are two of the most commonly used examples, but they are not the only ones. All journalists, including our friends in the parliamentary press gallery and parliamentary correspondents—they all do extremely important work.
In order to do their job, however, they must be able to work freely, without undue interference. Unfortunately, we have seen a very troubling trend in that regard. There have been some disturbing examples, like the ones reported in Quebec, specifically in Montreal involving Patrick Lagacé and Joël-Denis Bellavance, but we have also seen a broader, long-term trend that should be setting off alarm bells among those who care about our democracy.
For example, under the Liberal government, Canada's global ranking for freedom of the press dropped 14 points. That raises a lot of questions. That is why Bill S-231 is a real step in the right direction, quite timely, and so important.
The bill will do a number of things. It will allow journalists to better protect their sources. That is important because when journalistic sources do not feel protected, they keep quiet. Speaking of sources, they are drying up. They are holding on to information that can sometimes be crucial, which prevents journalists from giving us the complete story and getting to the bottom of things.
Through the proposed legislative changes in this bill, a journalist could refuse to disclose information if he believes that the confidentiality of his source would be compromised. In fact, the onus is reversed. Now it will be up to the police to prove that the information they are looking for is more important for public safety than the right to protect sources. That is a key component.
We are also going to take the power to issue search and surveillance warrants away from justices of the peace. Obviously, we still need some judges to have this power, so it will be transferred to superior court judges. I think this is a very important change. I would like to cite one figure I find quite surprising: 98% of the search or surveillance warrants requested by Montreal police were granted. I think that is a very high success rate. It is not that I do not trust the police or think they are not being diligent, but that percentage seems a little high to me. I think it is a good idea to keep a close eye on this.
Let us take a closer look at what this bill is proposing. A judge will be able to appoint defence counsel, of a sort. Normally, when this kind of warrant is requested, the journalist or media outlet being targeted is not notified.
Obviously, someone who wants to conduct a search or surveillance is not going to notify the target. The target does not know what is going on. Having a special advocate to defend the rights of the journalist or media outlet will ensure that all perspectives are taken into account and result in a more fair and comprehensive legal process. There are other elements that I will not mention here today, but I think they are all very important.
Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that this bill is not perfect. During the Senate debates, the definitions of “media” and “journalist” were narrowed somewhat. We have so many platforms nowadays that it is hard to pin down who exactly is a journalist, who is a part-time or full-time journalist, and what counts as traditional media versus new media. It is important to work with fairly broad definitions of “journalist” and “media” even if that means judges have to make their own calls about that as necessary.
This is an important bill whose time has come. I know the Liberals slowed the process down a bit, but I think they eventually came around to our view that we really have to pass this bill quickly. I hope that this bill will be sent to committee soon and come back to us for third reading before too long. That is all I have to say.