Madam Speaker, as I was saying earlier, I had the opportunity to be here in the House to hear the farewell speech of former NDP leader Ed Broadbent. He said that we tend to focus more on what divides us, that 80% of the time we are in confrontation mode, and 20% of the time, we are not talking about what unites us.
I have to say that I am very pleased to rise in the House today following my colleague from Laurier—Sainte-Marie, only to agree with her and the rest of the House, and support an important bill that, in a way, preserves one of the pillars of our democracy, specifically, freedom of expression.
I would first like to commend the hard work done by the bill's sponsor, my Conservative colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent, who is himself a former journalist and who understands, from first-hand experience, the importance of being able to protect journalistic sources. Unfortunately, in recent years, these sources have been mistreated, and there have even been attempts to expose sources that have revealed some of the scandals that unfortunately occur in our public institutions and elsewhere. Hats off to my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent for taking the lead on this bill.
My colleague was only able to sponsor this bill because, in the wake of a scandal that erupted in Quebec, Conservative Senator Claude Carignan took the bull by the horns and proposed the bill we are discussing today, Bill S-231, an act to amend the Canada Evidence Act and the Criminal Code regarding the protection of journalistic sources. Senator Carignan tabled his bill less than a year ago in November 2016. The bill was passed by the Senate in April 2017, which shows how fast it has progressed.
Last spring, the bill was tabled in the House, where it was slightly amended with the collaboration of the government, the NDP, our sponsor, and our party. Now we are at the final stage in the House, the statements leading up to the vote at third reading, after which the bill will move forward. Since the House of Commons has made amendments, the bill will have to go back to the Senate for the changes to be approved. It is interesting to note that this time, it is the House of Commons that is acting as the chamber of sober second thought for the other place.
The bill we are discussing today, as my colleague said, introduces a key component: it changes the burden of proof. That is one of the key components of the bill. What is more, my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent mentioned that this bill was reviewed by the Department of Justice and police forces to ensure that it is balanced.
According to La Presse, the interesting thing about this bill is that it will take Canada from slacker to leader. We will be on par with countries that have measures to protect journalistic sources, countries such as Australia, Germany, France, and Great Britain. This is a positive outcome to an alarming situation. Let us not forget that a Quebec journalist, Patrick Lagacé, was under police surveillance by a municipal police force. That is troubling.
This is nothing new. In 2007, a former Bloc Québécois MP, Serge Ménard, introduced a similar bill. Unfortunately, we were under a minority government at the time and the bill died on the order paper.
Today, we truly have an opportunity to achieve the desired result and a chance for the bill to receive royal assent. I will come back to that a bit later.
Of course, journalists like Patrick Lagacé were wiretapped. Closer to home, Senator Claude Carignan reminded us that among the examples of journalistic revelations based on confidential sources wanting to reveal information, there was the famous sponsorship scandal.
Globe and Mail reporter Daniel Leblanc relied heavily on information from a confidential source known as “Ma Chouette” in writing a series of articles on the sponsorship scandal. The confidential information he got from his source about fraudulent activities related to the sponsorship scandal resulted in what was certainly Canada's biggest political scandal in recent decades. The problem is that Mr. Leblanc, who did his job to protect democracy, had to fight tooth and nail to defend himself in court and protect the journalistic source who enabled him to expose the scandal.
If not for those whistleblowers, if not for people being able to talk to reporters in strict confidence, hundreds of millions could have been squandered without the Canadian people ever getting wind of it. In a healthy democracy, the media function as a check and balance and journalists do enjoy press freedom. That is a basic right, but, as we saw with Mr. Leblanc, who was taken to court, it is a fragile one.
I would like to quote a Supreme Court ruling, because it is important. The top court asked us to take action, in a sense, because we have a constructive dialogue with it. In the National Post ruling, the court states:
The role of investigative journalism has expanded over the years to help fill what has been described as a democratic deficit in the transparency and accountability of our public institutions. There is a demonstrated need, as well, to shine the light of public scrutiny on the dark corners of some private institutions.
The Supreme Court goes even further:
...unless the media can offer anonymity in situations where sources would otherwise dry-up, freedom of expression in debate on matters of public interest would be badly compromised.
Freedom of expression is one of the pillars of our democracy. It is what is at stake here today, and what we want to protect. As I have already mentioned, and as we have heard in previous debates, the bill aims to protect sources, reverse the burden of proof, and clarify the definition of “journalist”. In addition, if this bill passes, going forward, only Superior Court judges, as set out in section 552 of the Criminal Code, will be able to rule on the terms and conditions. In Quebec, it would be a Quebec court judge.
Time flies, but I just want to say that this bill provides parameters. In particular, it provides a definition of “journalist”. The purpose is not to place journalists above the law, but rather to give them the tools to protect their journalistic sources. It is a bill to protect journalistic sources.
In closing, I want to quote Senator Carignan:
Honourable senators, the purpose of this bill is to protect the best interests of Canadians and preserve their trust in the integrity of their institutions. It is about protecting ourselves against attacks on one of the pillars of our democracy, Canadians' right to information and sound administration of their public institutions.
There is no better way to defend this bill than to quote Senator Carignan.
My colleagues and I know that politics is a matter of trust. We know how important it is to maintain trust between the public, our political institutions, and our public institutions. We truly have a chance to do that today, especially considering that the symbol of our democracy, the governor general, will take office next week. I hope that with the co-operation of hon. members of the House of Commons, we will give her the opportunity to stand up for freedom of expression by giving royal assent to this bill to protect journalistic sources.