October 3, 2019

CANADA – Supreme Court decision upholds shield law protecting journalists’ confidential sources

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) applauds the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to set aside an order issued by a Quebec Superior Court that would have forced investigative journalist Marie-Maude Denis to reveal her confidential sources in a government corruption case.

On September 27, Canada’s highest court reaffirmed that Radio-Canada reporter Marie-Maude Denis does not have to reveal her confidential sources, making this the first successful test of the Journalistic Sources Protection Act of 2017. The Supreme Court ruling upholds this “shield law,” which says the burden is not on the journalist to prove it is unnecessary to reveal a source but rather on the party that aims to force the journalist to testify to prove it is necessary. The court set aside a March 2018 Quebec Superior Court order for Denis to testify and identify her sources in a case surrounding Marc-Yvan Côté, a former liberal politician in Quebec charged with fraud and bribery, which disregarded Canada’s newly-implemented 2017 federal shield law. The case, however, has been returned to the Quebec Court for reconsideration.

“This Supreme Court ruling is an historic win for journalists and press freedom in Canada, and is a strong first interpretation of the nation’s recently-adopted federal shield law,” said Dokhi Fassihian, Executive Director of RSF’s North America bureau. “The protection of source confidentiality is imperative to the watchdog role of journalists like Marie-Maude Denis, who do critical reporting on issues like political corruption. It is strong protection like this that will allow sources to rest assured that they can speak to journalists without fear of reprisal. This decision is an all-around win for investigative journalism.”

RSF and a coalition of Canadian journalism and free expression organizations intervened on behalf of Denis in early-2019, arguing that in adopting the Journalistic Sources Protection Act, journalists can only be forced to reveal their sources as a last resort.

Canada ranks 18th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.