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Senator André Pratte urges stronger protection for reporters, sources

Independent senator and former journalist Andre Pratte wants the Liberal government to look seriously at beefing up protection for reporters and their sources.

La Presse handout

Independent senator and former journalist Andre Pratte wants the Liberal government to look seriously at beefing up protection for reporters and their sources.

Pratte says if the government shows no interest, he'll pursue the idea himself.

It is "quite worrisome" that Montreal police obtained warrants to monitor one of his former colleagues, La Presse columnist Patrick Lagace, Pratte said Wednesday in an interview.

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"I think it is time to look at this again."

The newspaper said this week it had learned at least 24 surveillance warrants were issued for Lagace's iPhone this year in connection with an internal probe into allegations police anti-gang investigators fabricated evidence.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the Supreme Court of Canada has already explicitly laid out the test that must be satisfied when police investigations intersect with media freedoms.

In two key 2010 rulings, the high court did not create blanket constitutional protection for journalists, saying they are a "heterogeneous and ill-defined group of writers and speakers." Instead, the court spelled out a four-point test that allows judges to weigh competing public interests on a case-by-case basis.

The Lagace case shows something more is needed, said Pratte, former lead editorial writer at La Presse.

"I don't think we can simply say, 'The Supreme Court has issued those criteria, and they're good enough.' Well, obviously, they were not good enough to protect Mr. Lagace and his sources for a period of five months."

Despite his apparent reluctance to revisit the existing regime, Goodale left the door open a crack.

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"If there are those in the federation of journalists or others who have recommendations to make about how this can be more abundantly emphasized, I would certainly be glad to receive their recommendations," he said Tuesday.

Pratte said he would contact the Liberal government for a direct answer about whether it will consider a new law.

"And if they show no interest in doing it, certainly I am looking at it," he said.

"These are very complex issues, but I think we have to look at them ... especially in the light of the Lagace affair.

"If I have a strong belief that a bill is possible and a good way to go at it, I will certainly work on it and try to get a bill on the floor of the Senate."

Former Bloc Quebecois MP Serge Menard introduced a private member's bill in 2007 to bolster protection for journalistic sources, but it did not become law.

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"That may be a starting point for writing a bill," Pratte said.

"What I hope will not happen is that in a couple of days, after all the emotion has disappeared, everyone will forget about it."

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