November 3, 2016

Canada - RSF joins coalition of media and civil liberties organizations to intervene in VICE appeal

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) joins a coalition of media and civil liberties organizations that will intervene in VICE’s appeal of a March court ruling that ordered journalist Ben Makuch to hand over all communications between him and an alleged ISIS fighter to the Royal Canadian Mountain Police (RCMP).

On October 27, despite strong opposition from the Crown, Ontario’s Chief Justice George Strathy granted the coalition’s motion to intervene in VICE’s appeal. The coalition includes RSF, its local partner organizations Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), as well as several other Canadian media and civil liberties organizations.

The coalition argues that the March ruling ordering Ben Makuch to hand over his materials to the RCMP has a chilling effect on press freedom and sets a dangerous precedent for the independence of journalists, the protection of their sources and the public’s right to know.

The ruling against Makuch if allowed to stand would make it easier for Canadian police to obtain notes and recordings from journalists, which is why RSF has chosen to intervene in support of VICE’s appeal,” said Delphine Halgand, RSF’s US Director. As one of the world's strongest democracies, Canada should set a positive example of protecting journalists' sources, not a negative one.

VICE Media recently launched an online campaign with RSF and CJFE in order to raise awareness about this case and call on the Canadian Government and the RCMP to drop their demands for Ben Makuch to hand over correspondence with his sources. The campaign also calls for the revision of Canada’s statutory framework that governs the use of production orders in order to better protect freedom of the press and access to information.

Oral arguments for the appeal are scheduled to begin in February of next year.

The ruling against VICE is one of many recent incidents that have threatened press freedom in Canada. Earlier this week, RSF learned that the Montreal police department has been monitoring the mobile phone of Patrick Lagacé, a columnist with the Montreal daily La Presse, in order to identify his sources. And in September, Quebec police seized Journal de Montréal reporter Michael Nguyen’s computer during a search of the newspaper in response to a complaint by Quebec’s judicial council about a story he published in June on a judge’s aggressive behavior.

Canada is ranked 18th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, after falling 10 places in 2015.