Latest VICE decision puts journalism in Canada at risk

Editorial

Tuesday, April 5 2016

This past week, journalists across Canada were dismayed to see the Ontario Superior Court rule that VICE News reporter Ben Makuch has to hand over all evidence of the communications he had with an alleged ISIS fighter to the RCMP.

The courts ruled, according to VICE’s coverage, “the police’s ability to gather evidence trumps the rights of VICE and Makuch to protect their work product in this case.” As of press time, VICE Canada is considering appealing the decision.

This goes against one of the key principles of journalism - the privacy of a source. The trust the public places in a speaking to a reporter is put at risk by this decision.

No journalist in Canada is going to feel safe saying to a source that materials handed over, or written communications, will be kept secure.

This case isn’t about journalists protecting criminals, or in the case of the Makuch case, known terrorists.

Rather, it is journalists protecting the right of the public to be able to speak to the press without fear of litigation.

While journalists, especially local ones, have a professional and often cordial relationship with law enforcement, it is not the job of a journalist to enforce the law.

No photo, scrap of paper, private message, or any other kind of material should have to be handed over.

No member of the public should feel like speaking to the press should get he/she in trouble with the law.

No journalist should feel afraid to pursue a story, for fear that speaking with a particular person and then refusing to disclose information to the RCMP could land the journalist in jail.

As stated by the CJFE (Canadian Journalists for Free Expression) in their statement, “the Canadian government must ensure the integrity of journalistic work is protected and journalists can freely operate while protecting their sources without facing the prospect of legal sanction.”