Reporters Without Borders voiced its anger at pressure to reveal her sources brought to bear on Karine Gagnon, of the Journal de Québec, who reported on a potential danger to public health, as she was about to appear before an administrative tribunal today.
“Are lawyers at the property company Société immobilière du Québec (SIQ), who are trying to get Karine Gagnon to produce her notes and the name of her informants, just pretending to be unaware of one of the fundamental rules of the profession of journalist?”, the worldwide press freedom organisation asked.
The law obliges a journalist to produce confidential notes only when they are seen as absolutely crucial to the police in a criminal investigation. This case is nothing like that. Karine Gagnon does not have to give her up her archives, or her contacts”, Reporters Without Borders said.
Gagnon wrote an article on 24 November 2006 about the presence of asbestos in some government buildings. Among those cited in the article was Denis Petitclerc, of the SIQ, who was immediately sacked by his employers for speaking to her. This dismissal is now being fought at the Labour Relations Board and Karine Gagnon is also facing legal action over the case.
Lawyers for the SIQ are demanding that the journalist produce all her notes and recordings which she used for her reports. They also want to know the identity of every person to whom the journalist spoke on the condition of anonymity.
It is not the first case of its kind affecting a Canadian journalist. An amendment to the criminal code passed on 15 September 2004 forces the press to hand over archives and notes to police if they consider them essential to a criminal investigation.
This amendment was used for the first time in February 2006, when Bill Dunphy, of the Ontario daily Hamilton Spectator, was summoned by the courts to hand over notes of an interview with a person accused of drug-trafficking. The journalist appealed. In 2004, his colleague on the same paper, Ken Peters, was fined 30,000 dollars for refusing to name a source.