Madam Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to speak to Bill S-231, an act to amend the Canada Evidence Act and the Criminal Code (protection of journalistic sources).
Please allow me, Madam Speaker, as others have done before me, to express my gratitude to the Senate sponsor for his hard work and dedication in relation to this important bill. My thanks also go to my colleague opposite, the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, for his role in helping move Bill S-231 expeditiously through the House. Finally, I would like to thank the various witnesses who appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security during its study of the bill, including representatives of the media who shared their compelling stories and the important challenges they have faced in protecting the confidentiality of their sources in the course of doing their work, particularly in the aftermath of the events in Quebec last fall.
Evidently there is overwhelming support for the bill's overall objective. This bill truly reflects a multi-partisan consensus. All agree that due consideration must be given to the protection of journalistic sources. This is true not only when someone is seeking the disclosure of a document or information before a court that would identify a journalistic source but also when law enforcement officers are seeking a warrant, or other court orders, to obtain information or documents relating to a journalist.
Before I get into the various measures proposed in the bill, I would like to remind members that Canadian law is not silent in this regard. In fact, the protection of journalistic sources afforded by common law and the Constitution are rigorous.
Because of this, we have a responsibility to ensure that this bill reflects the common law as much as possible to avoid unintended consequences. More specifically, we have a responsibility to ensure that we do not unintentionally undermine existing protections. We must also ensure that the new protection measures introduced by the bill would apply in all appropriate cases, but only in appropriate cases. I will come back to this shortly.
This, in essence, is what the proposed amendments to Bill S-231 made by the public safety committee are all about. As we know, Bill S-231 would amend two acts. The first set of proposed amendments relates to the Canada Evidence Act. The amendments are aimed at protecting the confidentiality of journalistic sources in the courtroom context. The second set of amendments relates to the Criminal Code and seeks to protect confidential journalistic sources in the investigative context by introducing a new process for the issuance of search warrants, and other orders, in relation to journalists' communications and their belongings.
I will focus first on the second series of amendments because they target the main concerns arising from the Lagacé case, which had to do with whether common law protections for the confidentiality of journalistic sources are in effect given due consideration when warrants and orders are issued against journalists.
In essence, the new process proposed in Bill S-231 for obtaining warrants and orders concerning journalists would not only codify the existing common-law protections but would also add additional safeguards to ensure a high level of scrutiny when the state wished to intrude on the privacy of a journalist. For example, such warrants would only be issued by superior court judges, and only if there was no other way to obtain the information and if the public interest in the investigation of the crime outweighed journalists' right to privacy in doing their work. Also, the resulting evidence would be automatically sealed. All these new measures would be designed to protect the confidentiality of journalistic sources at the investigative stage, before the state has brought charges or obtained evidence.
The amendments that the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security made to the new process and to the changes to the Criminal Code proposed in Bill S-231 can be summarized as follows: first, the override clauses were removed from the proposed changes to the Criminal Code in order to prevent potential conflicts with other federal laws, particularly with regard to matters of national security and privacy protection. The rules set out in Bill S-231 are sufficiently clear and there is no need to override other federal laws in this regard.
The second amendment relates to the scope of application of the proposed Criminal Code process in practical terms. As originally drafted, the new requirements for police to apply to a judge of a Superior Court for a warrant, authorization, or order relating to a journalist would have applied in all cases where a journalist was involved, regardless of whether police were actually aware that their investigation related to a journalist.
This needed to be fixed, because in real life, particularly in this day and age of online crime, police do not always know the identity of the suspect, let alone what that person does for a living. Unless police know a journalist is involved, they cannot logically be expected to apply the new Criminal Code process. The amendment made at committee makes it clear that the new process only applies if police are aware that a journalist is implicated.
That said, if and when police subsequently find out that their investigation relates to a journalist's communications, the amendment would require that they apply to a judge at a Superior Court so that the warrant or order can be confirmed and appropriate conditions can be imposed to safeguard journalistic sources. In the meantime, police would be prohibited from examining the evidence and from making copies of it. I believe this is a significant improvement to the bill.
Another important issue with regard to the proposed new Criminal Code process for issuing warrants and orders in relation to journalists—and I think we are all in agreement on this aspect—is that this process is intended to protect the confidentiality of journalistic sources. It is not, however, intended to protect journalists from criminal investigation and prosecution when they engage in criminal conduct.
The original version of Bill S-231 did not make that distinction. The changes made by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security clearly state that the new Criminal Code criterion for issuing a warrant, authorization, or order relating to a journalist does not apply when the journalist engages in criminal conduct.
Such a warrant or order would, however, still be issued by a judge of a Superior Court, and, where necessary, the judge would be able to protect the confidentiality of journalistic sources by ordering that some or all of the evidence be sealed. This, in my view, is a very sensible and necessary amendment.
Insofar as Bill S-231's proposed new Canada Evidence Act provisions are concerned, it is important to remember that they seek to protect confidential journalistic sources by allowing a journalist to object to the compelled disclosure of information or document on the grounds that it identifies, or is likely to identify, a confidential journalistic source. The provisions would also ensure that disclosure in such cases is only authorized if certain conditions are met.
I wanted to speak briefly about the amendments made by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, but since I have very little time left, maybe I can ask one of my colleagues to present them.
In closing, the amended bill we are proposing will provide better protection for confidential journalistic sources, in the interest of all Canadians, and it deserves everyone's support.