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Senator tables bill to protect confidentiality of journalists' sources

Senator Claude Carignan speaks to the media in the Senate foyer on Parliament Hill on Oct. 29, 2013.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

The relationship between a journalist and a confidential source is sacrosanct, according to a Parliamentarian who wants to enshrine that relationship in law.

Amid a scandal over revelations that police in Quebec spied on several journalists, Conservative Senator Claude Carignan has introduced a private member's bill that aims to keep police from ferreting out reporters' sources.

"It's a fundamental principle. It's very important to protect the journalist and also the whistle-blower," Mr. Carignan, the Senate's opposition leader, told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday.

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While Quebec recently announced a commission of inquiry into press-freedom issues, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has resisted calls for a Canada-wide inquiry. But Mr. Carignan said Parliament cannot afford to wait.

Bill S-231, the Journalistic Sources Protection Act, seeks to "protect the privilege of journalistic sources, and secrecy," he said.

While the bill would not inoculate journalists from police powers to get search warrants, it would make those powers harder to use.

For example, only high-court judges could endorse such warrants.

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Should such judicial permissions be granted, the fruits of any such searches against a journalist would be immediately sealed. Journalists would be notified so their organizations could fight in court to keep the information sealed and have it returned unopened.

In recent weeks, Mr. Trudeau has fended off calls for action by saying that his own security services are not now investigating any journalists. "We have actually strong safeguards and protections in place to protect the freedom of the press in the course of business conducted by CSIS and the RCMP," he told reporters.

Last year, the RCMP ordered a Vice News reporter to surrender materials related to conversations with a Canadian member of the Islamic State. And the Mounties briefed Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale last year about the fact that some detectives had shadowed a Quebec reporter who obtained a leaked CSIS document.

In Quebec, police forces went after several journalists' phone records in investigations of internal leaks. In most cases, the detectives obtained production orders for reporters' call records, but at least once, police obtained a "real-time tracking warrant" in hopes of tracking a reporter using his iPhone's GPS chip.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/montreal-police-surveillance-of-journalist-a-sign-of-real-time-tracking/article32690692/

Proponents of press freedom say investigative journalists need to be able to protect their sources.

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For example, when the Charbonneau Commission in Quebec explored ties between organized crime groups, the construction industry and politicians, it admitted it was following work done by journalists. "Reporters must continue their important work as watchdogs of democracy," lead commissioner France Charbonneau said.

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About the Author
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

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