The March court ruling ordering 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, argues a coalition including RSF, its local partner organizations Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), and the Fédération Professionnelle des Journalistes du Québec (FPJQ), as well as several other Canadian media and civil liberties organisations.
“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 North America Director. Canada is currently experiencing a crisis for press freedom. We are deeply concerned for the recent deterioration of the respect for journalists’ independence, the confidentiality of their sources, and their ability to freely do their job without fear of being surveilled, followed, or even arrested.”
Makuch’s case is one of many recent incidents that have threatened press freedom in Canada and that have alarmed RSF.
Last September, the daily publication Le Journal de Montréal’s headquarters were searched and journalist Michaël Nguyen’s computer was seized after Quebec’s judicial counsel claimed that information he published was obtained illegally from their website. This “breach” of their online security was later debunked when a journalist from La Presse reported that he accessed the same documents without ever encountering any security measures. Last October, Justin Brake, journalist and editor of The Independent, learned he was facing possible trespassing charges for his coverage of protests against the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador. And last October, La Presse’s Patrick Lagacé revealed that he was the subject of Montréal city police surveillance since the beginning of 2016. Days after his revelation, at least 6 other journalists learned that they had been the subject of Quebec provincial police surveillance in 2013.
Canada is ranked 18th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, after falling 10 places in 2015.