MLDI and coalition intervene in Canadian Supreme Court case on confidentiality of journalist sources

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Posted on: 
23 May 2018

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The Canadian Supreme Court today held a hearing on an issue that will have major implications for press freedom generally, and the confidentiality of press sources in particular, in Canada. The case concerns attempts by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to compel Ben Makuch, a journalist from VICE News, to turn over material relating to conversations between that journalist and a source.

MLDI developed and coordinated an international coalition of twelve organisations active on issues relating to press freedom, media rights, and civil liberties in intervening in support of Mr Makuch, who is a national security reporter for VICE News in Toronto. Mr Makuch has been ordered by the RCMP to hand over all communications he had with an alleged Islamic State fighter. The production order came following a series of articles Mr Makuch  wrote in 2014. VICE News and Mr Makuch have resisted that order, and now find themselves before the Supreme Court appealing the decision of the lower courts to compel disclosure.

The international coalition argues that an order compelling disclosure of confidential journalistic material to law enforcement is an unwarranted interference with the freedom of the press.

“Protection of journalistic sources is essential to ensure proper investigative journalism," said MLDI’s Legal Director Padraig Hughes. “We hope the court will recognise that the risk to investigative journalism where the press are forced to reveal source material to law enforcement is very real, and will have a serious impact on their role as a ‘public watchdog.’”

The international coalition comprises Article 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Index on Censorship, the International Human Rights Program/University of Toronto Faculty of Law, the International Press Institute, Media Law Resource Center, Media Legal Defence Initiative, PEN Canada, PEN International, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Reporters Without Borders, and World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

You can read more about the case on the IFEX website (one of the coalition interveners). 

MLDI would like to thank Paul Schabas and Kaley Pulfer of Blakes, Cassels & Graydon LLP for drafting the intervention.