Dear Prime Minister and Ministers,
We, the undersigned, represent individuals and organizations whose lives and work depend
upon freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and the protection of sources. We believe
that press freedom is being steadily eroded in Canada, and that your government must take
urgent action to prevent further harm.
Canada recently dropped ten places in Reporter Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom
Index, thanks to what the organization called a “dark age for journalism” under our previous
federal government. Despite the Prime Minister’s strong rhetoric in support of journalism,
under your government there have been multiple press freedom violations in Canada. Based on
current trends, and without decisive action, the “dark age” looks set to continue.
We see this in the spying on Patrick Lagacé and his colleagues by police, the potential jail
sentence faced by VICE News reporter Ben Makuch, the possible trespassing charges facing
Justin Brake for his coverage of protests at Muskrat Falls, and the seizure of the Journal de
Montreal’s Michael Nguyen’s laptop, among other cases. Are there other serious violations of
press freedom in Canada, more journalists being spied on? Because of the lack of effective
oversight of our police and surveillance agencies, Canadians simply don’t know.
On November 16, Minister Goodale stated in the House of Commons that the government is
reassessing safeguards for press freedom and that you are “welcoming any input from
journalists, lawyers, or others if they have suggestions to make about how the law needs to be
improved.” Prime Minister Trudeau has likewise stated that the government is open to
discussion as to how to improve protections for press freedom in Canada.
We are encouraged by your openness on this matter, and to this end wish to highlight several
simple changes that we urge the government to make to ensure that press freedom and free
expression are properly protected.
1. Pass a press shield law
The federal government must pass press shield laws that prevent journalists from being
compelled to reveal confidential sources. This will ensure reporters like Ben Makuch
never again face jail sentences for simply doing their job, and that whistleblowers
remain safe from outside retribution. From the UK to Germany to the majority of U.S.
states and Australia, almost every western democracy has such laws. Canada must enter
the 21st century and adopt these protections. Senator Claude Carignan has introduced a
private member’s bill that amends the Canada Evidence Act the Criminal Code to
protect the confidentiality of journalistic sources, and we urge the government to work
with him to see that these protections are implemented.
2. Fix the warrant and production order process for journalists
The recent surveillance of journalists in Montreal and Ottawa reveals that the warrant
and production order process in Canada is badly broken, with justices of the peace too
often rubber-stamping warrant and production order requests without weighing the
public interest or their constitutional consequences. This is easily fixed. We ask federal
and provincial governments to require that any warrant or production order for
surveillance of journalists be requested by prosecutors, as opposed to police, and
approved by judges, as opposed to justices of the peace. Journalists should also be given
the higher level of protection afforded to lawyers, judges, and legislators. This will strike
a crucial balance, allowing the press to remain free from unjust surveillance without
creating an undue burden on police forces.
3. Amend Bill C-13 to remove surveillance powers
The federal government must repeal the dangerous surveillance provisions contained in
Bill C-13 (the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act). This Bill masqueraded as
legislation to combat cyberbullying, but was in fact used to slip controversial lawful
access provisions into Canadian law. C-13 greatly lowered the threshold of surveillance
warrants. It allows police to request warrants on the standard of reasonable suspicion
that an offence may be committed, instead of the usual requirement of reasonable
grounds that an offence has been committed and that the search will provide evidence
of it. It also allowed police to spread the net of surveillance, from targeted, time-limited
wiretaps on individuals to permanent, broad-scale digital surveillance of entire groups.
The Act must be amended.
4. Launch a national inquiry into spying on journalists
The federal government must launch a full public inquiry at the national level into police
and intelligence agencies spying on journalists. You have stated that you were satisfied
by assurances from the Commissioner of the RCMP and the Director of CSIS that these
agencies were not conducting any surveillance operations targeting journalists. We are
puzzled by your willingness—especially in the wake of a ruling from a Federal Court that
CSIS “breached its duty of candour” in keeping hidden a metadata surveillance
program—to accept such declarations at face value. Certainly Canadians have no reason
to do so. Public trust has been broken, and a full public airing of the conduct of police
and intelligence agencies is the only way it can be restored.
We request the opportunity to meet with you on an urgent basis to discuss these changes, and
further steps that the government can take to protect press freedom in Canada. Around the
world, journalists are facing unprecedented threats from authoritarian governments, terrorist
groups, and oppressive laws. Canada has the potential to be a global leader in pushing back on
these trends, but we are instead lagging far behind. It is time for action.
Thank you for your attention and we look forward to your reply.
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Reporters Without Borders
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Fédération nationale des communications (FNC-CSN)
Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec (FPJQ)
Ad IDEM (Advocates In Defence of Expression in Media)
Centre for Free Expression
Canadian Association of Journalists
National NewsMedia Council
May First/People Link
Canada ranks 18 out of 180 countries in RSF's 2016 World Press Freedom Index, falling 10 places since 2015.